Payments startup Pinn placed first in the retail category at Plug and Play demo day last week for a unique point-of-sale (POS) solution that enables bitcoin and fiat payments without the need for a smartphone or wallet.
The accelerator featured a number of bitcoin and blockchain startups in its FinTech portion, however, Pinn provided evidence of bitcoin's expanding appeal to other markets.
Pinn was the only retail startup to integrate bitcoin into its solution, but 18-year-old entrepreneur and CEO Will Summerlin sees the technology as one that could give it a long-term advantage over its competitors.
He told CoinDesk:
"Essentially, bitcoin eliminates dealing with international transactions, because it's a global currency. In an international environment, bitcoin creates a more frictionless payment process, you don't have to deal with conversion."
Pinn leverages proximity technologies, including Apple's Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) point-of-sale technology, iBeacon, to reduce the payment process to one action. Customers who have the app pay for items by entering a four-digit code on one of Pinn's merchant Android POS tablets.
"There's a long process that goes on there that ensures that the customer's device is actually in the store," Summerlin said. "It's impossible to spoof the way we're doing it, but we have to ensure that it is the actual customer that has this phone in their pocket."
Summerlin indicated that Pinn is currently working with Panasonic to bring its technology to the 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, but that such talks are in "early stages".
He went on to described how bitcoin payments could be ideal for this type of large scale event, where the volume of foreign exchange adds costs for athletes and their sponsors.
Panasonic did not respond to a request for comment at press time.
Bitcoin vs ACH
While Pinn allows users to link a traditional bank account or a bitcoin wallet, its design also arguably impacts the ability for bitcoin to compete at checkout, a fact acknowledged by Summerlin in interview.
For example, Pinn enables merchants to accept ACH transactions, or direct debit transfers from consumer bank accounts. This means US dollar payments on Pinn's network would cost just 1% for merchants to accept, the same rate bitcoin payment processors such as BitPay and Coinbase charge to convert BTC funds to fiat after a free trial period.
However, Summerlin sees bitcoin as having other advantages besides its low cost for users, most notably in the demographic it reaches and the way it can complement a payments solution by strengthening its international appeal.
"I think there are advantages not related to the actual transaction where bitcoin is more valuable," he continued. "If you have some sort of online service, and you accept bitcoin, instead of converting that bitcoin to currency, you can simply use it in a brick-and-mortar environment."
Summerlin said he believes that merchants are most interested in accepting bitcoin online, but that Pinn can serve as a way to bolster the number of physical retailers on the network.
He expects the number of online professionals that accept bitcoin to increase, and that Pinn could create an incentive for these individuals to hold bitcoin until these funds could be spent.
Early bitcoin activities
Like many young people interested in payments, Summerlin admitted to dabbling in bitcoin, even mining and purchasing the digital currency prior to Pinn. However, he suggested that he felt the payments experience required more than just bitcoin to be disrupted successfully.
He noted how he was first convinced that QR codes could transform the checkout experience but soon moved on to the next iteration of his idea.
"I realized it was not disruptive enough," he said. "To disrupt payments you have to have something really disruptive, something that's best for all parties involved. We literally vetted hundred of concepts and this is the culmination of the best attributes of all those combined."
In this light, Summerlin sees Pinn as a startup willing to take the best ideas from a longer list of early-stage payment technologies, utilizing each one, including bitcoin, for its advantages.
"We wanted to get in early," Summerlin concluded. "The other part of it is, bitcoin is cool."
Images via Plug and Play Tech Center