Last weekend in Mumbai, digital currency enthusiast Vishal Gupta gave out free dogecoin to the 45 participants that showed up to his monthly meet-up.
At least half of the attendees at this event were fresh faces, just getting introduced to the cryptocurrency ecosystem.
“The point of giving out free dogecoin is to get people comfortable with the idea of using digital currency,” said Gupta.
This event was organised by BitterCo.in, Gupta’s news and analysis website. It was held at Kolonial, Mumbai’s first restaurant to accept bitcoin.
The restaurant's owner Tarun Thadani was also in attendance. He said he has received about 10 bitcoin payments so far, though all of these had taken place during these meet-ups. Thadani said:
“The bitcoin meet-ups started taking place at my restaurant in the private area in the back. So, I got to know all these people and they are the ones who asked if they could pay in bitcoin for their meals and I started accepting it. But, at the moment, I accept them in my personal wallet and settle with my restaurant later.”
Thadani even makes a special menu for these social events with prices in INR and bitcoin, side by side. However, the next Mumbai meet-up may not fit in his party room as Gupta is expecting over 120 people.
Bangalore leads the bunch
Meanwhile, Bangalore already has two meet-up groups with over 500 active members. One of the groups, the Bangalore Bitcoin Creativity Crew also met last weekend. It was organised by Benson Samuel, an early adopter of bitcoin in India.
“Across India I do believe that we have crossed over 1,000 members who regularly attend the meet-ups,” said Samuel. “Step one in the direction that I am pushing is to start meet-ups in as many cities in India as possible.”
At this particular event, held at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore’s vibrant Indira Nagar neighbourhood, the key speaker was Aaron Koenig. Koenig is a film producer and director who also organises Bitcoin Exchange Berlin. He recognises that a diverse group of people come to these meet-ups, and he has a plan to keep all of them entertained.
Before his presentation, Koenig said:
“I will use some of the films we have produced because many of our customers happen to be bitcoin startups. So I’ll show some films: one’s about mining, one is about coloured coins. I’ll mix the talk so that for the beginners of bitcoin its interesting and also for those who about it on a basic level.”
The other meet-up group in India’s Silicon Valley is organised by Vikram Nikkam and Sathvik Vishwanath. The duo also run Unocoin, India’s bitcoin exchange.
India's individual struggle
Nikkam discusses various problems with initially introducing bitcoin to India, an important one being the fact that India was relatively unaffected by the 2008 financial crisis:
“India did not see the recession. So Indians really don’t understand what happens in terms of monetary systems and how our money is being controlled. In Western countries like the US and the UK, people have seen the recession. Europe has seen the recession big time. So they embrace bitcoin in a different way. They understand that bitcoin is a revolutionary currency.”
Nikkam also spearheaded the first Global Bitcoin Conference held in Bangalore on December 14-15th, 2013. He invited financial bodies, businesses and even the Reserve Bank of India to this meeting.
The organisers felt a need to continue the momentum of the conference. That was one of the reasons why they started the Bitcoin Alliance of India. Natasha Ambrose, a founding member, explains more:
“We wanted to help India as a whole understand the technology [of bitcoin]. We wanted to help the RBI, government officials, politicians understand it because we figured out that if India kind of missed the bandwagon at the moment, it was going to miss it forever. So we wanted to form a body, which is the Bitcoin Alliance of India, to help regulators and financial authorities understand bitcoin and help business around the country set up shop.”
There are two chapters of the Bitcoin Alliance of India at the moment, with the Mumbai group being led by Gupta.
“In India, there is a lot of public energy underground but in India, people are a bit more cautious with their money,” said Gupta. “Also here in India we have a tendency to look to the other guy before we make an investment. So, I think what is really happening is that people really want to do it, but they are looking at each other.”
While it will take some time for most Indians to open up to bitcoin, meet-ups and social events in major cities are helping keep the bitcoin buzz alive for now.
Mumbai, India via Shutterstock