Do you know what Bitcoin is?
Not everyone fully understands what Bitcoin is, and that’s OK. It’s not an easy concept to swallow.
Bitcoin is a digital currency that was created by some mysterious Japanese guy back in 2009. Like gold, it can be (and is) “mined” through a very complex series of algorithms by just about anyone, although there’s a limited amount that can be created each day and there’s a maximum number of bitcoins that will ever be available (21 million, of which there’s about 17 million in existence already).
The value of Bitcoin has exploded recently. As I write this, just one bitcoin today is worth more than $17,000 and the price seems to be rising by the minute.
But what is that something? It’s a currency and basically no different than any other currency like the euro or the U.S. dollar … or a cow.
For thousands of years, humans used lots of things as their currency, like cows, pigs, horses, services, or anything else that could be bartered. Today, countries issue their own currencies, which — when you think about it — are nothing more than pieces of paper backed only by their government’s promise to honor them if presented for products or services.
Bitcoin is no different. It’s a digital “coin” that’s stored in your virtual “wallet,” and an ever-growing community of people and businesses — like Expedia, Microsoft, Overstock.com, PayPal, and a large number of “service providers” on the Dark Web — say that it has value and are willing to exchange their own products and services for it. Bitcoin can be bought and sold for dollars on exchanges like CoinBase. Yes, there are some security concerns. But because it’s built on a highly secure “blockchain” platform, most people feel confident that it won’t disappear.
So, if a growing number of people and businesses are recognizing bitcoin as a means for payment, should you be considering it for your business, too? Some are.
For example, one restaurant in Utica, New York is accepting bitcoin for meals. No, this isn’t some crazy marketing promotion. The owner is doing this for a sound business reason: to save credit card fees. “It doesn’t have the fees that are associated with regular banks,” he recently told a local TV station. “Regular credit card transactions can cost you between three to four percent.”
A Japanese software company is now allowing its employees to be partially paid using bitcoins instead of currency. Why? Because they’re in the business of providing bitcoin and other “cryptocurrencies” just like it, so why not put their money where their mouth is?
Some companies are creating virtual markets and selling virtual “kitties” using virtual currencies like Ether, which is similar to Bitcoin. Others are using digital currency platforms to raise billions of U.S. dollars to finance their operations (a move that is lately drawing scrutiny from legislators that regulate capital exchanges).
The point is that, slowly but surely, Bitcoin, Ether and other cryptocurrencies are becoming more and more mainstream and entrepreneurs are discovering realistic reasons for using them. So that gets me back to the original question: Should you use Bitcoin in your business, too? For most of us, the answer is: No. At least, not yet.
Bitcoin is extremely volatile. Its value has exploded in just a matter of months. Many believe the entire market is a bubble not unlike Dutch tulips in the 17th century or the World Wide Web in the early 21st century. Whether or not that’s true, there’s no denying that it’s extremely risky — and difficult to manage. Plus, it’s really not very mainstream — yet.
The New York restaurateur is trying to save on credit card fees, but I’m skeptical as to whether many of his customers are using bitcoin to the extent that it’s even worth the effort. If you’re in the business of selling food, coffee, landscaping services, or tires, the last thing you need is to worry about is whether the bitcoin market is going up or imploding. To really make something like this work, you would need to be immediately converting bitcoins into dollars and paying extra attention to the currency’s value. Do you have the time to do this? Is the effort worth it?
Probably not. So, for now, my advice is to stay on the sidelines and watch the action. Stick to what you know best and use the payment options available to you —including credit card, cash, and mobile — that are more stable and easier to implement. But don’t rule out Bitcoin and other digital currencies as a choice for your customers in the long term. I believe they will be.