Shiva S is the CEO of Blockonomics, a bootstrapped startup that creates Bitcoin payment solutions for ecommerce platforms. Running since 2015, Shiva has overseen a lot of growth in the Bitcoin ecommerce market.
Why should ecommerce merchants look to Bitcoin?
Shiva S: When you first mention Bitcoin to someone who knows nothing about it, their gut reaction is either fear, or to trivialize it. At first glance, this can be understandable, after all Bitcoin has been involved in some scams and hacks such as the recent Twitter hack. However, this gut reaction is unfounded. Bitcoin is moving in a direction of growth. It is not just an asset, it is a currency.
With everything online growing, more and more stores, especially entrepreneurs are looking to move to ecommerce. But they run into a number of issues when it comes to sales. Ecommerce payment platforms are either expensive or insecure. They will hold your money. You have to deal with expensive fees and exchange rates. Bitcoin can bypass a lot of this. You can trade with anyone around the world in a single currency. You can avoid banks, and even worse, currency exchange places.
Do ecommerce merchants really see growth after using bitcoin?
Shiva S: Oh yes, especially if they are engaging in foreign sales. There’s one thing that the Bitcoin community loves doing, and that’s supporting businesses that accept Bitcoin payments. Go to Twitter and look at #bitcoin, it is full of people saying “shop here!” Go to websites that list Bitcoin stores, and people love it. We’ve had store owners tell us that they see sales increase when including Bitcoin. During the pandemic this has been especially true, we performed a survey of our customers and in certain sectors they said sales were up.
Too many payment processors focus on the big guy. What about the small business owners, the entrepreneurs? They need payment solutions that work for them, and allow them some independence. Bitcoin is the answer to that. Bitcoin fosters that independence. We have stores that use our products from places like Lapland in Finland, Bitcoin let’s them sell all over the world. We’re seeing websites from countries like Iran, where the government limits economic activity, and Blockonomics and Bitcoin have allowed them to operate underground. We have stores in Cuba, trying to sell their products abroad, but are limited by international sanctions. Bitcoin helped them sell their products abroad. This is why I love doing what I do, I love hearing stories from these store owners, and how we have played a role in letting Bitcoin help them with their dreams.
What do store owners do with their Bitcoin?
Shiva S: This is a good question, because one thing that’s creating worry for store owners is what they do with their Bitcoin. There’s a number of things you can do, you can convert it, obviously, but then you lose one main value Bitcoin gives: namely avoiding a lot of transaction fees. You can also hold it, treat it as an asset or investment. That isn’t the worst idea, Bitcoin’s price has a history of gains which means you may get more bang for your buck. But these days there’s so many online services that accept Bitcoin that keeping the Bitcoin to pay for services is a good idea. For example, many server hosting sites accept Bitcoin, that’s one expense you can pay off with Bitcoin sales. There’s lots of other options, and the number is growing daily. Checkout a website like acceptedhere.io, there are thousands of websites that are accepting Bitcoin. Thousands of sites that our customers use daily to spend their Bitcoin.
Are only Bitcoin enthusiasts using Blockonomics?
Shiva S: Not at all! We have a wide variety of people using Blockonomics. In fact, I’d dare say that many of our top clients had only a passing interest in Bitcoin before using us. We’ve done interviews with some of our clients, and they’ve said that a friend, or perhaps an employee suggested they accept Bitcoin, and they did some research and found us. Of course we have many Bitcoin enthusiasts, and some that treat Bitcoin like a religion, but a huge chunk are people who didn’t really know much about it. Of course now many of them will swear by the benefits Bitcoin gives them, whether its working around exchange fees or bypassing greedy payment solutions. So perhaps you could say now they are Bitcoin enthusiasts!
How has COVID-19 affected the ecommerce market?
Shiva S: COVID-19 affects everything these days, ecommerce is no different. I mentioned a survey we did above, we found that in many areas, our customers were hurting especially in the early days. However, business has picked up for a lot of them, thankfully. One area that did especially well was server hosting sites. As businesses and people were having to go online, they needed to host their servers. This picked up a lot of business for them, and they are a huge chunk of our customers. Two other areas were video gaming and weed, <laughs> I guess people get bored.
We also found over 70% are keeping at least half their Bitcoin. They mentioned they’re doing this for different reasons, whether it’s to keep as an investment or to pay for other services. People are definitely holding onto their Bitcoin.
I think that as the pandemic goes on we will see more and more ecommerce. People are accepting that we aren’t going to be doing as much in person shopping. People want the safety, security, and ease of shopping online. We are going to see more local businesses move to ecommerce. This is good for everyone, it allows customers to feel safe and it opens up entrepreneurs to new markets. We want to be there to help that transition.
What makes Blockonomics special?
Shiva S: There’s a lot of competitors out there. Not only do we compete with some big names in “fiat” (USD, EUR, etc) currency, like PayPal, but there are some big names in the Bitcoin world too. There’s a few key ways we differentiate ourselves, and it all comes down to what I mentioned earlier: we are here for the little guy. Blockonomics is here to make sure smaller entrepreneurs can sell whatever they want online, and they can do it cheaply and securely. Too many of those big players take advantage. They hold onto their sales themselves, not letting the entrepreneurs see it until fees are paid. And those fees are a lot higher! That can be a big problem for someone operating on a shoestring budget, believe me I know!
We also care a lot about security, this comes in two parts: security of information and security of payments. For the first part, we don’t take any more information from customers than we have to. This way, our customers don’t have to worry about private data leaking out. For the second part, as I mentioned, we don’t hold their money. Any transactions are sent straight to the customer, we don’t see the Bitcoin.
One of our slogans is “Direct to Wallet,” this really sums up our idea. We want to give entrepreneurs control of their sales, of their payments. We do that by not touching their Bitcoin. We want security, that’s also achieved there. And we want competition, we don’t want to be bogged down by giants, we offer that bypass. That is a lot of our differences. We are small, so we understand the average entrepreneur.
What is the biggest challenge Blockonomics has faced?
Shiva S: But even with my discussion earlier about non-Bitcoin people using it, there are still a lot of people who are hesitant. They still have those negative feelings towards Bitcoin, whether it’s ridicule or fear. So one of our biggest challenges is convincing those people Bitcoin is the way to go. We’ve worked a lot on putting out blog articles and such that emphasize how useful Bitcoin is, even for people who don’t know much about Bitcoin. Our interviews have also helped with that, it helps hearing it from other entrepreneurs. But it’s still a challenge, something we are working hard to overcome.
But as part of that, we then have to help transition merchants from the traditional payment processors. We aren’t holding any of their money, but they are used to a bank or PayPal holding their money for them. They are in control. That means merchants need to have a different mentality, it can take some getting used to. It also means they have to be more security conscious. They have to keep an eye on their wallets to make sure no one can touch their Bitcoin.
With that there’s also Bitcoin prices. When Bitcoin has crashed in the past, we’ve had a lot of problems, like with the big 2019 crash. Yes Bitcoin often bounces back, but some shops have to close up, and people are hesitant to keep their cash in Bitcoin as a store of value. Fortunately, Bitcoin seems much more stable now, and we’ve weathered through some storms. But Bitcoin stability is a huge factor, it needs to be more stable.
What is an average day like at Blockonomics? What is your team like?
Shiva S: We get this a lot. We’re quite a spread out team, 7 employees on 4 continents, split into two groups. We have the engineering side and the marketing side. It’s hard being involved in both <laughs>. Mostly though, I like to emphasise independence. My employees can finish their tasks when they can, if there’s something urgent I expect them to do it, but they have their lives to live. We update each other on Slack, but time zones mean we can’t always be in touch. I also don’t believe in meetings, so we only have one weekly meeting for the marketing team. Other than that I let them do their thing. They get it done.
How would an ecommerce merchant get involved with Blockonomics?
Shiva S: That’s a good question. We have plugins for lots of the major ecommerce platforms, like WordPress and WHMCS. The best way to check us out is to head to our website: www.blockonomics.co/merchants. You can reach out to myself at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll be happy to help out in looking into how to set up Bitcoin on your store.
Frederick, our VP of Growth is also at the front lines there. He’s really going out there to build our community, and there’s a lot of community out there. We’ve tapped into Bitcoin and ecommerce, there’s a lot of people who love to learn and try new things. At the end of the day, that’s what I want. I want to provide tools that help people realize their dreams. I want to make sure they can start their business.