Cannabis Shops Are Using Zap's Lightning App During Coronavirus Cash Crunch

The Lightning Network startup now offers fiat-friendly bitcoin payment tools. Cannabis dispensaries in Colorado are an early proving ground.

AccessTimeIconApr 1, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. UTC
Updated May 9, 2023 at 3:07 a.m. UTC

It’s now easier than ever to use bitcoin to support regular businesses beyond the crypto bubble. 

Zap founder Jack Mallers, best known for Lightning-friendly bitcoin services, just launched a desktop tipping product to complement the Strike payments app. Just like the mobile app, the tipping feature allows senders to give either bitcoin (BTC) or dollars while users receive dollars in their bank accounts. 

Each Strike username is automatically given a public tipping website. Mallers works with trading desks on the backend so users only see a Venmo-like interface. Spenders can scan a QR code, the same way they would for sending fiat with a regular fintech app. Users are not even required to know what bitcoin is.

“Every Strike user is given a public domain at,” Mallers said. “We’re using Lightning for really fast online settlement of value transfers. … It’s also beneficial for privacy on the sender’s side.”

The Zap team, which has been experimenting with Strike since January, on-boarded two cannabis dispensaries last weekend. Johnny Kurish, general manager at Boulder's Helping Hands Herbals, said the closed beta program processed roughly $1,000 worth of purchases over the weekend.

Now the dispensary will switch to only accepting contactless Strike payments, Kurish said, an anomaly in a region where most cannabis dispensaries are “cash only” establishments. Employees at Helping Hands no longer touch customers to accept cash or cards. 

“We’re really lucky to have curbside drop-offs. We check the ID through the roll-up window, deliver the cannabis to a podium in front of the car,” Kurish said. “We’re happy to reopen with an option that’s safe for our staff.”

Early traction

Eventually, Mallers said, he’d like to also allow options for debit cards so people can spend their bitcoin tips at the grocery store as fiat.

For now, the beta app for peer-to-peer transfers and its complementary website for receiving tips has more than 5,000 people on the waiting list. Mallers said he aims to open up the beta program to the public by summertime. So far, roughly 100 beta users are transacting with up to $20,000 a month.

“The point of the beta is to go at our own pace,” Mallers said.

Just like PayPal, Zap is a traditional money transmission business, Mallers said, for customers who have bank accounts in any American state but New York. Plus, anyone who wants to receive bitcoin can use Strike to send value to the Zap bitcoin wallet.

Mallers said he hopes, even beyond merchants, content makers and performers can use the Strike tipping feature to accept tips from fans around the world, since bitcoin is a universal payments technology. 

“We live-trade as you use the app,” Mallers said, describing how Zap scaled the backend trading operation with custom algorithms. “Our balance sheet is always remaining flat.”


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