Payments company PayPal, a subsidiary of auction site eBay, hosted a bitcoin event called PayPal TechXploration on 31st July.
The ‘Town Hall’ space at the PayPal offices in San Jose, California, was packed with hundreds of people, many having to stand. The meetup page for the bitcoin event lists over 700 people that had indicated a desire to attend.
Part of a regular series held by the company, the event included employees of PayPal and eBay, alongside members of the bitcoin community, and was intended to introduce people to the concepts and technology behind bitcoin.
The main speaker on the day was Scott Robinson, who heads the bitcoin incubator program at the Plug and Play Technology Center and hosts a weekly Silicon Valley Bitcoin meetup there every Tuesday night.
During Robinson’s presentation, he pointed out that many people probably have not heard about bitcoin because for most, the US dollar has been an effective currency.
He told the audience:
“We’ve never really been asked questions about the dollar. We’ve never really worried about the dollar.”
Explaining bitcoin to newcomers is not easy, especially with a large audience. Robinson tackled teaching bitcoin at the event by describing bitcoin’s novel approach. “Bitcoin is both a protocol and a currency,” he said.
Part of Robinson’s talk was dedicated to discussing how bitcoin solves the Byzantine Generals problem, an issue that other digital currency predecessors to bitcoin failed to figure out.
“The practical consequence of solving this problem means that any Internet user can send digital property to one another.”
During his presentation, Robinson asked how many people at the event owned bitcoin, and about one-third of the audience raised their hands.
Robinson’s goal presenting at the event was twofold: talking about the potential for bitcoin, and informing the audience about the rise and role of bitcoin startups.
“Bitcoin is a technology that is five years old. It seems a lot like the Internet,” he said.
He also announced that Plug and Play is offering bitcoin startups $25,000 in funding, office space and mentorship for interested entrepreneurs.
To provide examples of successful bitcoin ventures pushing the technology towards mainstream use, two bitcoin startups briefly talked at the event after Robinson’s presentation.
One was 37Coins, an SMS bitcoin wallet service that allows the unbanked access to financial resources via bitcoin and any cellphone.
Jonathan Zobro, co-founder of the company, said:
“We’re solving the fundamental first step by pushing bitcoin to people.”
To demonstrate its service, the startup gave away $2 in bitcoin to every event attendee who texted a displayed phone number, which then created a 37Coins bitcoin wallet and sent the initial bitcoin balance to that person via SMS.
Xapo’s director of client services, Fernando Gouveia, also briefly spoke about his company, which has been one of the most successful in raising venture capital in the bitcoin space with $40m raised in total.
PayPal and bitcoin
Founded in 1998, PayPal became successful making Internet payments super easy by allowing its users to send money via email addresses.
PayPal is now a large company under the eBay umbrella, and bitcoin as well as other digital currencies have become obvious competitors to its business model.
In June, eBay CEO John Donahoe said that bitcoin is more than just on the company’s “radar screen” and that it will have to find a way to integrate digital currencies.
However, it’s also possible Donahoe and his team might be developing an in-house solution to compete with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
At the beginning of this year, CoinDesk reported PayPal had filed a patent to develop digital tokens – a sign it may plan to rival bitcoin in the space.
And, although purely coincidental, PayPal’s bitcoin event happened the same day Stripe announced investment in a new project called Stellar with Mt. Gox creator and Ripple Labs co-founder Jed McCaleb.
Stellar has built an open payment platform for money, digital or otherwise, complete with its own altcoin, hoping developers will use its API to allow consumers to transact in any form of money they ultimately choose.
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