From a New York apartment (with the Freedom Tower posing ironically as a backdrop) Charlie Shrem beamed into the Toronto Decentral meet-up on Wednesday evening. He talked about his history with BitInstant and his plans for the future in front of the standing-room only crowd, and answered questions for an hour. Here’s are some of the highlights of what he said.
On his Bitcoin beginnings:
Shrem first became interested in bitcoins when he heard about its ability to send value over the Internet without having to trust a third party. He didn’t think it could possibly be secure so he set out to “break” the protocol. Of course, like so many others who first got into bitcoins this way – he couldn’t.
As the price of bitcoins started to rise (and fall and rise again!), he realized that the most important thing for him to do was to get them into the hands of as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. That was how BitInstant was born.
On the banking industry:
“I think I’ve been kicked out of every bank personally – and corporate – in New York City,” said Shrem with a laugh.
On BitInstant and its legacy:
Shrem reflected on the cumbersome, time-consuming process of buying bitcoins before BitInstant. In its heyday, BitInstant provided access to bitcoins at a million different locations worldwide – 700,000 in the USA alone – and employed twenty employees. Then, in June 2013, FINcen regulations had made it impossible to continue operations, and Shrem was forced to shut BitInstant down.
“We were already onto our Bitcoin evangelizing at that point. I really wasn’t too sad about it. We didn’t owe anyone any money,” Shrem reminded the crowd. Not too many defunct bitcoin companies can make that claim.
On the Bitcoin Foundation and its “pivot” toward core development:
Shrem recalled the early discussions in 2013 he had with Gavin Andresson, Roger Ver, and Eric Voorhees in Austria. Silk Road had been garnering a lot of negative press for bitcoin and they talked about the need to have better information and representation for Bitcoin.
A little while later, after talking with some other people, “Standardize, Protect, Promote,” became the goal of the Bitcoin Foundation.
Shrem agreed that the scope of the Foundation had become too wide over the past few years and it needed to narrow somewhat. The idea of focussing strictly on core development isn’t exactly what the Foundation originally set out to do, but it’s what it needs to do now. He stressed that the Foundation isn’t the only “voice of Bitcoin;” it represents its members, not the whole Bitcoin community.
Shrem praised the Bitcoin community for calling out scammers when they see them. He used the recent outcry over Paycoin as a good example of this sort of community monitoring.
Shrem also praised Moe Levin, TNABC organizer, for not revoking Josh Garza’s invitation to speak at the conference, for the sake of openness and transparency, and thought the situation played out just right in the end.
On his new project, ActionCrytpo:
Shrem said he was impressed by the transparency and openness on on-chain gaming sites. “One great bitcoin utility is gaming,” he said. The Internet gaming and gambling industry is rife with scams and cheats, but by using the blockchain and time stamps, that negative part of the equation is eliminated.
With ActionCrypto, people can buy an option on the future price of bitcoin at a particular point in time. The blockchain deals with everything; it’s totally transparent and no-one can cheat, he says.
So far, ActionCrypto has been making inroads around the world in countries like Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, Turkey and a variety of EU locations – just not in the US. “All US addresses are blocked,” says Shrem, citing regulatory concerns.
On going to jail: “A good place to be to talk about Bitcoin!”
While going to jail for any length of time is not on anyone’s wish list, Shrem seemed content with the way his case was resolved. It could have ended up a lot worse, he pointed out: at one point he was facing the prospect of up to 30 years in prison. “This time next year, it will all be behind me,” he said.
On the future of Bitcoin: Price, adoption, and regulation
Shrem’s recurring advice on bitcoin was “Buy and hold!” He pointed out that he has already seen many ups and downs over the years with the price of bitcoin – “This is about my fifth bubble” – and reminded the audience that “the price is not a sign of the economy” of bitcoin.
He expressed his faith in the Bitcoin community’s ability to grow the Bitcoin economy through education and advocacy. The biggest roadblock to adoption, he said, was misinformation. Plenty pf people have heard about Bitcoin at this point, but don’t know anything about it. He said that we need to (1) give people a reason to use it and then (2) make them use it without even knowing it.
Companies that play wth the utility of Bitcoin are the ones that will drive Bitcoin into the mainstream, Shrem said. Micropayments and remittances and anything that reached out to the underbanked of the world are key areas for companies to build on.
Want to hear more about Charlie Shrem’s perspectives on his trial, his politics, Mt Gox and Mark Karpeles, and the future of Bitcoin in the USA? Watch the full meet-up interview here on decentral.tv