The first inaugural Bitcoin Africa Conference conference was recently held in Cape Town at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront on 16th and 17th of April 2015. (www.bitcoinconference.co.za / @BitcoinConf_ZA)
The conference was held by Bitcoin Events Pty Ltd and organised by Theo Sauls (@theo_sauls) and Sonya Kuhnel who are both members of the local Cape Town bitcoin community. The conference was well attended for a first event, with about 150 tickets issued. From the people I encountered, the crowd seemed to be mostly bitcoin curious newbies who were either in the banking or business sector, or people already well versed with and working with bitcoin and blockchain technology on a regular basis.
The Bitcoin Africa Conference will bring together merchants, investors, venture capitalists, start-ups and Bitcoin enthusiasts who are all looking to move Bitcoin forward in Africa.
Day1 (16 April 2015)
Jonathan Levin from Chainalysis titled ‘bitcoin basics and beyond’. This talk was very informative about how bitcoin works, and Jonathan seems to have a great amount of knowledge about all aspects of bitcoin. He was happy to take questions from the audience and answer them in such a way that was easy to understand even for newbie bitcoin users. (@jony_levin / chainalysis.com)
Vinny Lingham gave a talk titled ‘Bitcoin: A silicon Valley Perspective’. The talk gave a bit of background to how Gyft was working with bitcoin, and how it will be doing things going forward to create an ongoing demand for bitcoin. According to Vinny, bitcoin is a commodity, not a currency. The demand influences the price, and without an industry demand for bitcoin like there is for regular commodities like gold or platinum, the price will continue to be volatile. Like all valuable commodities, Vinny speculates that the biggest buyers of Bitcoin in the next few years will be governments.
Building a services and systems that have an ongoing demand for the limited supply of bitcoin, will have a positive affect on the price over time. Gyft might be the first company with an industrial ongoing use for bitcoin, which would create a more stable price going forward. As the price of bitcoin increases in the next few years. (@ / medium.com/@vinnylingham)
Micah Winkelspecht of Gem gave a talk titled ‘Bitcoin security: a practical perspective’. Micah explained how their software platform works, as well as a little on the hardware side of things security wise. He explained how their multi-signature and hierarchical deterministic wallets work with providing a secure system for users wallets. He spoke about how bitcoin itself is secure, but bitcoin wallets and users are not as secure. By using their bitcoin wallet multi-signature platform, they are helping to keep peoples bitcoin safer. They use a 2 of 3 multi-signature system, they keep one key on their secure hardware, the customer keeps the second key, and the third is backed up securely. They use Thales FIPS certified hardware, commonly used in banking sector for securely storing the private keys. (gem.co / @winkelspecht)
Sean Emery of RainFin gave a talk titled ‘Bitcoin and Peer-to-Peer Lending – a combination of forces to completely disrupt traditional banks’. This talk explained how RainFin has created an environment in which borrowers and investors can interact safely with each other. Sean explained how as much as 10% of banking revenue comes from service charges and transaction fees. He went on to explain how customers put a lot of trust in the banks they use, while it is hard for peer-to-peer lenders to gain the same amount of trust or reputation. The RainFin system is growing but they need more users to participate in providing loans, banks on the other hand have vast amounts of money at their disposal (@rainfin1 / rainfin.com)
Erik Wilgenhof Plante from itBit gave an entertaining talk titled “‘Earning trust’; how rules and regulation can help development of virtual currencies”. This talk had a lot of information regarding regulation and how we need KYC and AML regulations for bitcoin to go mainstream and be fully adopted by business. He gave great examples and reasons for needing more regulation and why it would not be a bad, but rather a good thing if it is done correctly. It was nice to see how he also explained how digital money fraud or money laundering is not a concern that is limited to bitcoin, and provided examples of how money laundering has been done with fake apps in the Apple store, as well as ebay / paypal fraud using stolen credit cards, which is prevalent. Erik went on to explain how the bitlicence is good for business, and that when given the choice, customers will do business with companies that are regulated over those that are not, and eventually unregulated businesses will be pushed out of the market. (@itbit / itbit.com)
Elizabeth Rossiello gave a talk titled ‘Bitcoin, remittances and the developing world’ which explained how Bitpesa is using bitcoin for remittances in Kenya and Tanzania. Users from anywhere in the world are able to send bitcoin to bitpesa who converted it to M-pesa, and load it into the receivers M-pesa account. Their system facilitates getting money into the hands of M-pesa users with only a 3% fee, which is fast and efficient and significantly cheaper than traditional methods used for remittances. The M-pesa system is incredibly successful in Kenya and Tanzania, and by combining bitcoin with M-pesa they are disrupting the money transfer market significantly in the region. (@bitpesa / bitpesa.co / @e_rossiello)
Day 2 (17 April 2015)
Jonathan Smit of Payfast started off day two with his talk titled ‘Bitcoin and PayFast: eCommerce Insight and Potential’. This talk explained how they have integrated bitcoin payments into the payfast system. He spoke about how they have teamed up with BitX to allow for customers to pay vendors using payfast in bitcoin. The bitcoin is then exchanged through bitx, and the Rand is given to the vendor of the product. The vendor does not receive bitcoin at all, but they are able to offer it as a method of payment to their customers. Jonathan also gave some insight into the amount of bitcoin being used with Payfast payments, and said after an initial spike it is growing slowly but consistently.
Daniel Schwartzkopff of BetVIP.com gave a talk titled ‘Case study of a Bitcoin sports book, BetVIP.com and Bitcoin in iGaming’. Daniel explained how they only accept bitcoin which means lower overheads so better pricing for their customers. This not only gives them an advantage over their competitors in the iGaming market in terms of pricing, but it also eliminates charge backs which are rampant with online gambling business. Their system like many others has staff to facilitate manual withdrawal of bitcoin funds from their website which is a security measure to reduce the risk of bitcoin losses due to hacking attempts. He went on to explain how their staff are paid in bitcoin, and he himself travels with bitcoin and sells it localbitcoins.com when he needs fiat currency (betvip.com / @BetVIP_Official)
Lorien Gamaroff of Bankymoon.com gave a great talk titled ‘Smart Grids and the Blockchain – Bitcoin’s first killer app’ which was about power and utility companies using bitcoin and blockchain technology to enable smart meters to supply electicity, gas and water. This was an interactive talk as he got the audience to send a small amount of bitcoin to a wallet address which then turned on a switch, demonstrating how bitcoin can be used to pay for and turn on electricity. The smart grids and smart metering power system using bitcoin that Lorien talked about would reduce corruption and costs in the industry, as well as gather information for monitoring consumption and faults, or even predicting future usage with the data collected over time.
Lorien also explained how it is cheaper, faster, safer and more convenient to pay utilities with bitcoin rather than with physical cash, and also gave examples of how other people, sponsors or family members could pay the bills of family, friends, schools or organizations from anywhere in the world, and know that their money went directly to pay for those utilities and not used for other things or stolen. This could mean people and companies could send foreign aid in the form of utilities that are instantly available to the beneficiary if they wanted to. This method of payment would also be another industry that would have a constant need for bitcoin and build more demand. (@gamaroff / @thebankymoon / bankymoon.com)
Gareth Grobler of ice3x.com talked ‘New entrants and disruptors’ in his presentation. Gareth started his talk giving his ideas on bitcoin replacing other forms of payment, and does not see that happening any time soon. The view that he has is that adoption is slowing, as people in the first world are happy with their internet banking, paypal and credit cards already, and not very willing to change their ways. He also said that due to the lack of proper regulation and guidance, a lot of bitcoin companies are not able to get get bank accounts, or investors. As far as remittances goes, he can see the potential can be huge, but without enough liquidity at the exchanges, its not really viable to move large amounts of money using bitcoin yet. With the costs of getting money in and out of exchanges, as well as buying and selling bitcoin, right now its still not always the best option to use bitcoin for remittances, and sometimes traditional methods are still cheaper.
Although ice3x.com is a bitcoin exchange in South Africa and Nigeria, Gareth talked about doing something different with bitcoin, and introduced their system called “Ice Cubed Data”. The system has already been used by mining companies in SA for years, and will now start to use blockchain technology to manage data flow. Gareth explained how items such as documents & drawings can be indexed, timestamped, authenticated, authorised, distributed, updated, version controlled, quality controlled & signed off in a few clicks on their system. The system now uses the blockchain to save a cryptographic hashes of files that are stored client side to achieve all the new functionality that has been added. Ice Cubed Data will use the bitcoin blockchain just like Proof of Existance does to store the hashes of the data that it is managing. (@r3lb0rg / ice3x.com)
Simon Dingle of bitx bitcoin exchange gave an enthusiastic talk titled ‘Bitcoin, present and future’. This was probably one of the most exciting talks as he is a great speaker and quite obviously bullish on bitcoin. Simon says he tends to see problems as design problems, and that although the technology is elegant, the experience of using it is still too clumsy and complex for most people. For bitcoin to go mainstream, we have to design experiences of using it that are friendlier for nontechnical users. In terms of adoption, Simon thinks we are headed towards the ‘chasm’ between early adopter phase, and the early majority phase, and bitcoin must cross the chasm and become more appealing and less confusing to everyone else if it’s going to make the leap into the mainstream. The rest of the presentation used stats and info coindesk and other websites to illustrate and show the amount of investment pouring into the bitcoin industry, and how positive things are looking long term.
Simon went on to say how mobile will also be key to taking Bitcoin mainstream, with the mobile phone replacing other technology like alarm clock, walkman, gps, camera and now soon will be your wallet. Bitcoin and mobile are a match made in heaven. (bitx /@simindingler)
Brock Pierce the serial bitcoin investor and entrepreneur gave a talk titled ‘Bitcoin investment’ in which he talked about the numerous blockchain enabled companies he has invested in, including BitPesa. Brock highlighted a bunch of use cases for blockchain technology in different sectors such as Financial / records, Legal / Health / Education, Public records, Commercial / Media.
Brock explained that he sees the real potential of bitcoin is in the developing world, which has the ability to leapfrog traditional banking systems using bitcoin, just like it did with fixed telephone lines and the mobile phone. In the developing world governments could put their national currency onto the blockchain at almost no cost. Brock sees the lots of possibilities for bitcoin in unstable makets such as those found in many African countries that have currency constraints in the form of micro-transactions and remittances. There is a real need for investment in basic banking infrastructure in Africa, that bitcoin and blockchain technology can solve. (brockpierce.org / @brockpierce)
Overall it seemed to me that the conference was a success. I think that there could have been some more information on the basics of bitcoin as some of the attendees were at the very beginner level, but I think everyone left with a positive experience.
Adam Meister – “The Bitcoin Meister” (@TechBalt) posted this short video review of the conference:
The source of many of these images is the gallery at the bicoinconference.co.za website.