Last night, the Israeli Bitcoin Meetup group held a special ‘Meet the Activists’ edition holding. Previous monthly gatherings had featured a presentation on a either a specific topic like programming or security or were general information meetups created to appeal to larger audience. In this edition, taking the podium were 30 or so active members of the local bitcoin scene who gave a short 3-5 minute presentation about themselves and their current involvement with bitcoins. The meetup itself was held in Google’s Tel Aviv campus which has become the main locale for the monthly gathering and was attended by 185 people, becoming the group’s largest event.
Attending the event for Digital Currency Magnates, here are my takeaways from the meetup.
Technology first: I admittedly don’t know the pulse of bitcoin innovation in the rest of the world, but in Israel, it’s technology first. Referred to as the ‘greatest invention since the creation of currencies’ to ‘just as important as the internet’ by speakers, bitcoin and its potential to enhance the world were main themes. (Interestingly, the rhetoric refrained from referring to bitcoins, and digital currencies in general as a disruptive technology by emphasizing what it can replace as much as what it can do.) As a result, pretty much every speaker had mentioned how personally they were involved with developing their own wallets, creating mining rigs and or conducting academic research on the technology. These personal hobbies were in addition to also actively involved with startup projects in the space.
Among the innovative products that were discussed were colored coins, the process of using bitcoins to handle securities contracts (the project is currently being developed by Master Coin), escrow type wallets to handle local transfers of fiat for bitcoins, as well as efficient exchanges that provide an easy experience for the general public to purchase the digital currency. Also discussed was that we are only hitting the tip of the iceberg in what can be done, as the future could see transaction limits per second equaling that of credit cards as well as sub-second block chain confirmations. How bitcoin would achieve these goals was an unknown though, but through the combined resources of the community they were deemed attainable.
No mention of alt-coins : Perhaps it was due to this being a bitcoin meetup, but there was little mention of any other digital currencies. In terms of projects speakers were working on, the focus was purely on bitcoins and expanding its usage.
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No love for Israeli banks: A prevailing opinion among speakers was that purchasing bitcoins in Israel is not an easy ordeal. Private buyers even in the pre-2013 period endured long wait times from exchanges to gain approval for wiring funds. Within the local market, exchanges seemed to be having a difficult time working with Israeli banks, with a few closing due to account closures. However, a couple firms, such as BitsOfGold.co.il have been able to secure stable partnerships with financial institutions. In BitsOfGold’s case they forged a solid deal with a chain of money changers that allows users to purchase bitcoins from any of the many kiosk like changers located throughout Israel.
VCs and Startups: In a post yesterday, it was mentioned that 2014 is going to be the year of massive investment into bitcoin related firms. That was clearly evident from this event as venture capitalists and lawyers were both among the speakers and attendees. In addition, among ‘old school’ participants, I was a bit surprised by the last speaker who was from Ernst and Young, representing the consulting and accounting firms acknowledgement of the great potential in the sector.
Favorite product: One of the achievements of the local bitcoin community was the launching of the Bitcoin Embassy in Tel Aviv. A physical location, the embassy was established to create a place to educate the public about bitcoins and become a meeting place for dialogue. During the event, Moran Shaked, of BuyTheWay.co whose group won the first Israeli bitcoin hackathon earlier this year, spoke about several products being created to increase adoption in the local market. Among them, my favorite was a bitcoin wedding gift that will be sold at the Bitcoin Embassy. Not sure how it will look like, and what makes it a wedding specific gift. But, due to the sheer amount of questions I personally receive from people asking how they can purchase a few bitcoins for their friends, kids, etc, such a product would seem like a winner.
Final thoughts: Like any meetup, the goal is to both become educated as well as network among attendees. This event clearly fit that bill. While not focusing on any one topic, the overall presentations allowed attendees to better view the direction of existing bitcoin projects. Another item I noticed is that there was a strong interest from financial particpants in the audience. While speakers and attendees didn’t appear to be putting trading systems at the forefront of primary needs for bitcoin, it was being spoken about which could lead to 2014 seeing more Israeli born financial based products.
Last but not least, on a personal note, I finally found some fitting stickers to get rid of the ‘Raiders’ logo on my backpack.