Some Bitcoin marketers and advocates have conflated mass adoption with mass appeal; the two, however, are not the same.
That’s according to Reynaldo Poullard, founder of Austin-based non-profit Cyberfunks Alliance, which will be holding its inaugural event series, Bitcoin Awakens, on November 6, in partnership with the Central Texas Food Bank in East Austin. With around 46,000 Central Texans, one-third of them children, lacking nutritious food each week, the funds raised during the event will help them gain access to food that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.
The concept behind the Cyberfunks Alliance is to build a broad-based, widely accessible network of urban, tech-savvy Bitcoin enthusiasts that can help bridge the gap between Bitcoin technology, the unbanked and the underbanked. They aim to achieve this by promoting bitcoin literacy through a fun-filled adventure where storytelling, teamwork and game play is the order of the day.
Tapping into the Unbanked and Underbanked Markets
Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Poullard said that when people discuss issues regarding the unbanked, it tends to be in the context of developing countries.
“While they note accurately the high smartphone penetration, they paint pictures of places with poor infrastructure that have little to no internet access, people that speak little to no English and that have marginal economic development,” he said.
However, while he states that in certain aspects they may be right, for the purpose of bitcoin adoption, this is tantamount to fitting square pegs into round holes. This is particularly pertinent when there are 40 million unbanked Americans and another 49 million that are underbanked in the country, according to Federal Reserve statistics from April 2015.
“These are people who are tech-savvy, social-media savvy, smartphone users,” said Poullard. “A prime demographic for bitcoin usage and almost none of them are even aware this technology exists.”
Reaching out to the 40 million American smartphone users that don’t have bank accounts is not a matter of bringing diversity into Bitcoin, it’s simply good business, according to Poullard. Yet, despite $1.1 billion in venture capital being poured into the space as of May 2016, this is a problem that has gone unaddressed and apparently ignored in the Bitcoin space.
As of 2009, half of the workers in the world earned a living in the informal economy, which is an economy that is neither taxed nor monitored by any form of government, and that figure is growing. It is predicted that two thirds of the world’s workforce, or 2.4 billion people, will be unbanked by 2020, according to Robert Neuwirth the author of The Stealth Of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy.
“In essence, the efforts to use bitcoin exchange business models is an exercise in futility,” said Poullard. “In other words, unbanked is the new banked.”
A 2015 blog from GfK, a market and consumer information website, found that while mobile banking wins big, it is the underbanked — younger generations, minorities and those with low levels of income — who are the most connected, with 66 percent owning a smartphone, but who don’t use a traditional financial institution.
According to Poullard, of the top ten largest unbanked/underbanked cities in the U.S., the top three are in Texas: El Paso, Dallas and Houston.
He believes, however, that it will be easy to bridge the gap because most Bitcoin development and adoption efforts are taking place in the U.S., and until the Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure is built out, humans will be the primary users of this technology.
As money is the biggest market there is, Bitcoin has the potential to upend the entire financial system. The loop will only be closed once more people accept bitcoin, making fiat currency unnecessary and undesired.
During the last major bitcoin price increase in 2013, the narrative was about achieving mainstream or mass adoption, according to Poullard. He states, however, that most in the space have conflated the two.
“Mass appeal means that your target market can and does use your product, while mass adoption means that those inside your target market, outside of it, plus so-called 'undesirables' use it as well,” he said.
However, despite Bitcoin’s existence since 2009, mass adoption has yet to be achieved. Not only that, but it seems as though the bitcoin tradeshow model will not be enough to increase adoption. According to the Cyberfunks Alliance, the Bitcoin protocol, like the internet before it, holds the promise of becoming the next disruptive technology of the digital age. Yet with a protocol that is not easy to grasp for the average layperson, these tech-heavy conferences can leave people with more unanswered questions than what they arrived with. The worry then is that Bitcoin’s protocol will remain a promise unfulfilled.
Speaking to Bitcoin Magazine, Fred Constantinesco, co-founder of the Cyberfunks Alliance, said that adoption attempts often fail because they either make things too complicated for the average smartphone user, or after teaching people, they don’t follow up with more information. “Giving someone a wallet and a small amount of bitcoin is great, but it won’t lead to adoption alone.”
Utilizing the Power of Play
How do you get large groups of non-technical people to understand a technically complicated subject?
The Cyberfunks Alliance hopes to achieve this through their event, Bitcoin Awakens. Their mission is to help people change the way they perceive and use bitcoin through the power of play.
In teams of three, players will compete in 15 quests together in camaraderie on a digital currency obstacle course that is a parody of scenarios from the Stars Wars universe.
Teams will solve challenges related to the bitcoin network based on five rudimentary knowledge areas: the value of digits; monetary theory; open source software; decentralization/distributed networks; and public key cryptography.
“We decided to use [what3words] to enhance our game mechanics and make things more compelling, novel [and] fun,” said Poullard. “In the story arc, teams must solve challenges and are rewarded with clues in the form of 3-word coordinates.”
The geo-locating platform what3words has mapped out a global grid of 57 trillion 3m by 3m squares that can provide addressing capability in lieu of traditional geographic latitude-longitude coordinates. Each square on the grid is identified with an easy-to-recall 3-word sequence.
Players earn clues and learn about bitcoin technology while conducting blockchain transactions required to unlock coordinates to various obstacles.
“Each clue leads like a breadcrumb trail back to the final challenge and the victory party,” said Poullard.
The final challenge in honor of Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious creator of the Bitcoin protocol, is to discover a secret location.
Unlike a typical Bitcoin conference, says Poullard, Cyberfunks Alliance is an event series and not a one-off, annual conference, so they don’t have the same constraints and can ideally produce one show a week.
“We’re providing a crash course, hands-on, trial-by-fire bitcoin experience that’s epic, lucrative and fun,” he said. “Lots of conferences have the same speakers, talk about the same topics, on a conference carousel that features content one could easily consume via YouTube from the comfort of their own home.”
According to the Cyberfunks Alliance, pop culture, more than anything else, is America’s greatest export. They believe tapping into that will drive bitcoin’s mass adoption. Think Snapchat or the Pokémon Go phenomenon.
“When Pokémon gets more children playing outside in one weekend than Michelle Obama did in eight years, you can see that the power of play works,” said Constantinesco. “Getting people to use bitcoin is okay, [but] getting people to continue using bitcoin is the issue.”
The Cyberfunks Alliance has listed a store through OpenBazaar, allowing people to donate to the Central Texas Food Bank with 100 percent of bitcoin donations going straight to the Food Bank. They can also buy tickets to the Bitcoin Awakens event for $99.00, with 10 percent of the purchase ticket price going to the hunger-relief charity, with no processing fee or middleman involved, making it an ideal donation platform.