How Emirati Start-ups Are Embracing Bitcoin
Entrepreneurs in technology and food are embracing the power of the crypto-currency
While companies like DinarCoin are responding to the dramatic collapse of Iraq’s currency, others like BitOasis, which is based between Dubai and California, are responding to environments where a healthy financial infrastructure is in place but out of sync with digitally-enriched lifestyles. We interviewed Ola Doudin of Emirati start-up BitOasis.
Although it is quite unpredictable how digital currency (and Bitcoin in particular) will play out on the Middle East’s regional stage, there are clear cultural implications that we can start thinking about. BitOasis is a start-up founded by Ola Doudin working to bring Bitcoin technology to Middle East consumers. Her expertise draws on insightful knowledge and data points that underline the need for financial services to address the digital transformation re-shaping how consumers shop, work, and carry out monetary transactions:
As you probably know, Bitcoin is an open payment protocol anyone can use to transfer value (money being one) across border, securely and at almost no-cost, just by having an internet connection. It is a crypto-currency that makes sending money as easy as sending email.Security is one of the main challenges when it comes to Bitcoin consumer products, we’re using a 2-of-3 multisig setup that ensures users private keys are distributed and stored in 3 different secure locations by three different independent parties.
Bitcoin can offer many solutions across the Middle East: women in villages can sell their handicrafts online and accept payments from anywhere across the world, farmers can receive bitcoin loans and young people can freelance remotely and receive payments instantly.
At BitOasis, we believe we can change the way people transact in the Middle East using Bitcoin. Online payments is a challenge in the region due to the inefficient payment systems but also due to security concerns, which is a global problem. However, we know that the Middle East’s e-commerce market is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, yet around 85% of transactions is still done with cash. Additionally, around 72.8% of youth in MENA think freelancing online can provide them better income opportunities than full-time work, yet many of these youth still can’t be paid online. Around 80% of MENA’s adults are unbanked, stuck in an informal and cash based economy that offers them little prospects to lead a good life, have income, save or invest or have any access to financial tools to receive and send money.
GCC nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been working towards a unified currency since the early 2000’s without alignment from other nations. How do you see a digital currency like Bitcoin working alongside official state currencies?
Whether or not Bitcoin can be adopted as a universal or national currency is a different debate all together, and we have yet to see how different institutions and regulators will react to it across the world. Generally speaking, I believe Bitcoin can co-exist with national currencies, however the form it will take will depend on how governments and regulators will react to this new technology and how they work with startups that are innovating in this space, ideally by creating new products that will become the next generation of fintech products that allow for further innovation rather than cracking down on it (a good example of this would be funtech’s blockchain, a distributed public ledger that has a record of all transactions).
The discussions around digital currency goes beyond Bitcoin to include other areas like mobile payments, virtual wallet apps, and even brand-supported rewards programs, but Bitcoin is particularly interesting because it is gaining adoption from the ground up. Amber Haque, co-founder of The Pizza Guys, the first pizzeria in the UAE to accept Bitcoin payments from customers admits they began accepting Bitcoins for business reasons, but also to participate in a social experiment and broader conversation, “This conversation [around Bitcoin] has been taking place for some time now and it is very interesting to us. It is changing the way people are thinking about currency. It is such a people-focused kind of currency.”