An event titled ‘Building the Payments Web’ took place in San Francisco yesterday, with a focus on digital money and cryptocurrencies.
The half-day symposium featured a discussion panel, an introduction to a promising payment protocol and a pitch competition.
It was held in conjunction with DeveloperWeek, a conference and events series that attracts a total of 2,500 developers each year.
Introduction and panel
‘Building the Payments Web’ was sponsored by Ripple Labs, a company that has built its own payment protocol alongside a digital currency – also named ripple, or XRP.
Ripple Labs’ Chris Larsen kicked off the event with a brief introduction. This was followed by an hour-long panel discussion titled ‘The Year Payments Came Online’.
The panel consisted of; Jered Kenna, CEO of TradeHill and Money & Tech; Chris Larsen co-founder and CEO of Ripple Labs; Tom Longson, CEO of GogoCoin; and Jesse Powell, co-founder and CEO of Payward/Kraken. Dan Held, co-founder of Zeroblock, served as moderator.
During the panel, the relationship between financial technology and cryptocurrency entered the fray, with Longson arguing that technical wizardry won’t necessarily lead to adoption: “It’s about serving people’s needs the best, it’s not just about the best technology.”
Longson’s company GogoCoin allows people to use digital currencies with prepaid cards. He said distributed money promises the ability to “pay people all over the world like we’ve never been able to”.
Early adopter Jered Kenna told the audience he was “really fortunate to find out about bitcoin in the beginning”. He currently runs 20Mission, a co-working and living space that helps to foster the startup community in San Francisco.
Kenna was also able to simplify recent innovations in financial technology, using a single sentence he pointed out that:
“Money is just a database entry”
Building company and regulation
Many people are starting to see the potential of digital money. But far fewer understand what it really takes to build a company around bitcoin. Kenna, who was a co-founder in the now-dormant exchange TradeHill, offered the audience some advice: “Do not start an exchange.”
He talked about how legal costs can mount up when building an exchange.“Lawyers are insanely expensive,” he said, explaining that they can charge over $20,000 to draw up one document. He added: “Keep it as simple as possible.”
Larsen, the Ripple CEO, told the audience that he is “pretty optimistic about regulation”. As a result, he encouraged the developers at the event to stay focused on a product and not on regulatory issues.
“Don’t let it intimidate or slow you down,” he said.
Larsen then spoke briefly about his belief in the eight second rule: the idea that a product or service should be understood by a customer within eight seconds.
Altcoins and the unbanked
The potential for distributed systems to help the underserved is immense. Some of the digital payments entrepreneurs at the event talked about cryptocurrency’s ability to reach the unbanked population.
“FinTech may be boring, but it moves people,” said GogoCoin’s Longson. He believes the opportunity is large: “There is a huge number of people around the world that are unbanked.”
On a different note, Powell, who runs San Francisco-based Kraken, told attendees that his exchange is now open for doge business, although he’s not sure what to think of the fledgling currency:
“I don’t know if [doge] offers a lot, other than it is funny”
Powell also pointed that it is too early to say whether many of the emerging altcoins will succeed over time. He pointed to Ethereum specifically, saying that it is “months away” from having software that is ready.
After lunch came the pitch contest. Contestants were given two minutes to pitch concepts for the digital payment sector. Some of the ideas included: hosted Ripple wallets, voting applications and emergency debit cards.
1st place winners received 500,000 XRP, 2nd place 300,000 XPR and 3rd place was awarded 200,000:
1st place: Ripple Hedge Fund
2nd place: Fuzz Labs
3rd place (tie): Bitwal and Dave Cohen, who pitched a digital currency voting system
About Ripple Labs
Ripple is a 40-person company based in San Francisco. Larsen, its CEO, has been involved in financial technology companies in the past, most notably Prosper, a peer-to-peer lending marketplace.
Stefan Thomas, CTO of Ripple, also made a presentation during the event which uncovered Ripple’s mission in greater detail.
He talked about Ripple as a “protocol for moving value,” something that has been in demand: “People have dreamed of this for a long time.”
Larsen told CoinDesk that Ripple Labs is looking to nurture development and help accelerate startups in the digital payments space. Because of this, it is actively looking for ideas that are anchored by solid teams.
The company has a section on its site dedicated for developers to get started with its platform.