Don’t you wish there was a resource that knew all the businesses that accept Bitcoins in your area? WelI I had a chance to talk to Paul Puey, the CEO/ Co-Founder of Airbitz, a Bitcoin wallet and business directory that does just that. Their web-based business directory went online on Mar 17. The iOS app came a week later, and the Android app was released April 7 at the Inside Bitcoin NYC conference. Paul studied Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at UC Berkeley, California. He was a 3D graphics software engineer at Nvidia for 7 years, although he had also done software projects in web user interface.
“I always loved being able to visualize my work,” says Paul. He then left engineering and started working in small business, where he gained a lot of insight into the intersection of business, consumers, and technology. In between all of this, Paul discovered Bitcoin.
“I wanted to find a way to incorporate it into my life. It was perfectly aligned with my belief systems as I feel that large establishments consistently mislead us — whether it be medical, pharmaceutical, food, or financial. As much as I can, I try to support local companies and merchants as opposed to the big establishments. However, I wasn’t able to sink my teeth into any of these issues as I’m not a doctor, pharmacist, or nutritionist. Bitcoin was something that aligned with my beliefs in disrupting these establishments, and I could finally do something about it.”
After having used Bitcoin, Paul realized it needed a strong effort to make it consumer friendly.
“I didn’t see Airbitz as a way to simply make money,” says Paul. “I saw it as a need for the Bitcoin ecosystem. Our team wants Bitcoin to succeed, and we were convinced that its usability was a significant barrier to adoption. The fact that you don’t know where to spend it was where we would start.”
It is pretty hard to use a currency when you don’t know where to spend it. Airbitz began building a tool that makes Bitcoin easy to spend and easy for the consumer to find a location at which to spend it. Two of his co-founders, Damian Cutillo and Tim Horton, came from a prior startup, Breadcrumbs, and rolled into Airbitz with the knowledge and experience to build a great looking, high quality business directory. Two Airbitz developers, Damian and William Swanson, also worked closely with Amir Taaki on the Dark Market hackathon project in Toronto and won first place. “We make it as frictionless as possible for businesses to get listed on our directory,” says Paul. “Go onto airbitz.co, click Submit a Business, and send the name of your business, URL, and email address. We have curators that will find the rest of the info related to your business such as hours of operation, photos, and description.”
There are many wallets out there that are very centralized. If their servers go down, you can’t send or receive money. The data model of the Airbitz wallet is to use public bitcoin servers, so even if Airbitz goes down, all of their users will still have a functional wallet. To accomplish this, Airbitz utilizes their own bitcoin server nodes in addition to public servers running the opensource Libbitcoin project. Written by Amir Taaki, it is one of the first complete re-implementations of the Bitcoin protocol. Paul notes, “A terrible experience would be for a user to go to a restaurant to use Bitcoins and when they get there it doesn’t work because the wallet servers are down. It’s a huge blow to the usability and the impression people have of bitcoin, and we don’t want people to get that impression.” On privacy and security, Paul states, “Every other wallet in the Bitcoin ecosystem makes wallet security and encryption an extra step, and backing up their wallet keys yet another step. This is extra friction that hinders adoption for the masses.
When using the Airbitz wallet, you’re automatically encrypted, secured, and backed up, but it happens without you even knowing. We use strong encryption and password hashing, and it all happens behind the scenes. It feels like you’re using online banking when you’re really encrypting and backing up your keys. Keys are held by the user, not by Airbitz. Airbitz has no ability to look at metadata, private keys, or even public keys. If someone knows you’re using an Airbitz wallet, and they were able to hack all of our servers, they wouldn’t know which blob of data on the server to try to hack to get to your money. Privacy actually increases security. People think of them as different, but here, privacy increases security a great deal.” “Ultimately,” says Paul, “We aim to achieve the most user friendly, easy to use, easiest to secure solution for bitcoin both in the wallet and business directory space. We’re the wallet you can refer to anybody you know, grandpa, mom, or lady at the cafe. We’ll make it super easy. If you can handle online banking, you can handle using Airbitz.”