Our 28th business: Bitmarket.ph

MANILA, Philippines – Coming from abroad, where I could pay for almost anything with my debit card, I usually find it a hassle to carry cash around. Buying things with cash always leaves me with enough coins in my wallet to start a piggybank, and then I have to worry about finding an ATM to get more of it.

But what if there was another, easier way to pay for things? The co-founders of Bitmarket.ph – Nick Galan, Jardine Gerodias, Miguel Cuneta, and John Bailon – think the answer lies in the cryptocurrency known as Bitcoin. And they have the experience and funding to make it work – between the 4 of them, they own 27 businesses across almost every industry you could think of (yes, even portable photo booths!).

Bitmarket.ph provides merchants with a point-of-sale system, so that they can easily accept Bitcoin from customers. The chain Wingman recently adopted this Bitmarket.ph system, making it the first restaurant in the Philippines to accept Bitcoin.

News of this development went viral on Reddit, one of the most popular news aggregators in the world, which only goes to show how eager the Bitcoin community is to see widespread adoption of the cryptocurrency in the country.

The Bitcoin economy

Perhaps no man is more excited for Bitcoin to take hold in the Philippines than Miguel Cuneta, who is one of the 4 co-founders. Given that there are a few other startups in the Bitcoin space in the Philippines, Cuneta distisinguished how Bitmarket.ph is different from them. Cuneta said, "Most of the other Bitcoin startups decided to focus on the exchange aspect of the currency, while we decided that merchant adoption was just as important."

He explained, "Although the ‘be your own bank’ aspect of Bitcoin that will supposedly liberate the ‘unbanked’ or ‘underbanked’ in countries like ours is a great buzzword, we believe that the power of this technology is in giving those people actively seeking a better life through ingenuity and hard work (the merchants on Facebook, Instagram, bazaars, sulit.com and the like) a fighting chance in a growing global economy."

"By allowing them to accept digital payments without restrictions and costs," he concluded, "we empower a new avenue for an increase in business as Bitcoin adoption grows." And though the vast majority of Philippine companies would benefit from accepting Bitcoin, Bitmarket.ph is focusing on getting on-board two select demographics.

Cuneta said, "Our approach is to go grassroots and reach out to the small merchants making a living selling services and products online. Internet based businesses will benefit the most from this."

The reason being: most entrepreneurs using Facebook or Instagram or the web to sell their service or product have no problem promoting and selling, but are still restricted by the payment methods available to them.

As for the second demographic, Cuneta said, "Another are people with a service they can provide online such as tech or artistic services. They have a hard time getting paid, usually using Paypal with at least 4% to 8% being deducted as fees. Bank wires are just as prohibitive cost-wise. Bitcoin allows them to transact directly and get paid instantly. Bitmarket.ph will facilitate this for them."

Early challenges

Of course, discussing Bitcoin’s importance to the Philippines and its vendors is one thing, but actually pitching bitmarket.ph to businesses is another. Even though Bitcoin awareness, according to Cuneta, is "growing faster than we thought," many business owners may be unfamiliar with Bitcoin. As such, Cuneta and his team focuses on the value that it can provide to them.

He said, "Since part of our target market is composed of both brick-and-mortar business owners and online enterpreneurs, we tell them that they can start accepting digital payments from anywhere in the world, anytime, at no cost, using Bitmarket.ph and the Bitcoin payment network."

Cuneta added, however, that they "try to avoid the technical side of it." This would include the Bitcoin protocol that enables the digital transactions as well as how their own proprietary point-of-sale system actually works. Instead, they always focus on how Bitmarket.ph can bring the company more business. 

As part of their pitch, Cuneta would convey these benefits: "We assume the risk of the exchange rate by exchanging the Bitcoin on the spot and remitting the pesos to you within the next banking day. Our marketing and advertising team will also give added value to any small business by including them in our promotions and advertising campaigns at no cost as well. If your business is bigger and can accept credit cards and the like, then accepting Bitcoin is just another way to get paid, simple as that."

Yet once companies sign up with Bitmarket.ph, there are still things that their staff needs to learn, and this has made for one of the biggest challenges so far. Cuneta said, "The biggest non-technical challenge was getting merchants to learn the system, actually accept Bitcoin, and having them trust us to remit their money. We addressed these by having a number of focus group discussions with different merchants to help us develop our product."

Following those focus group discussions, Cuneta said, "We then decided to hire the best team of people whose job is to approach them and guide them through the process of signing up and using our service. Lastly, we established trust by building a relationship with them and introducing them to our partners so they can see that these are established and trusted owners behind the business."

And this formula has worked. As mentioned, they recently signed Wingman to the Bitmarket.ph system, making them the first restaurant in the Philippines to accept Bitcoin. They will soon sign other companies on board, which will make some of them the first to accept Bitcoin in their respective industries.

Helping in this cause will be Bitmarket.ph’s native point of sale (POS) Android app. This app is installed on the Android tablet that is assigned to each Bitmarket.ph brick-and-mortar merchant. These tablets enable the merchants to quickly generate a Bitcoin invoice for the customer, along with a QR code that is universally scannable by any Bitcoin wallet app. The Bitmarket.ph tablet thus bridges the gap between Bitcoin as an electronic currency and its use in real world transactions.

Given Cuneta’s early success with Bitmarket.ph, I thought it would be only appropriate to ask him what advice he has for other entrepreneurs – tech or otherwise – in the Philippines. He had this to say: "Trust your judgment. Don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t get discouraged if things don’t move as fast as you planned."

He explained, "When Nick and I started out in the Philippines, a lot of sacrifices were made, and it wasn’t until 5 years later that we could consider it really successful. Patience is very important. Also, work with people you trust, and make sure you surround yourself with competent people."

As a final word of advice, Cuneta added, "Most important I think is that you have to have that desire to really want to achieve your goal. My favorite saying in business goes, ‘We are told that talent creates its own opportunities. But it sometimes seems that intense desire creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents as well.'" – Rappler.com