I work in Santa Monica, CA for my day job at a corporate office park about 2 miles from the beach.
It’s a bit more residential than than the areas around downtown Santa Monica and the 3rd Street Promenade, a not as tech-influenced as say Silicon Beach. But about a year ago, every so often I’d see someone buzzing by on an electric scooter. They seemed like a lot of fun, and incredibly convenient, but I thought there’s no way I’d drop a grand on buying one of those especially after just leasing a new car. But after seeing one up close I’d finally realized we were the testing ground for a new service — Bird — and it was taking the area by storm. Soon enough, flocks of them were popping up corners, and I found myself enamored with it. My commute to the office was roughly 3.5 miles and given the traffic going in both directions it could easily turn into a 40 minute commute in either direction. So I decided to switch to using these at every chance I could. Not only were they convenient, but they were fun. They were a little dangerous, and could be a nuisance in the eyes of some (even myself from time to time), but damn if it isn’t a blast to cruise along on one of these with the wind in your hair. And also slightly patting yourself on the back for using a greener form of public transportation.
Soon enough, more competitors arrived on the scene. Lime scooters popped up using a slightly different method of payment (making you load your account vs. trip by trip payments), and then Lyft. I didn’t even know Lyft had gotten into the game until I saw them being set up. They looked exactly like Birds (both had scooters made by Segway), but the restriction of the Lyft scooters was location — you couldn’t ride them outside the Santa Monica city limits. That didn’t stop me though. I rode one home to Century City only to be greeted by a warning that said “You’ll face a $25 penalty if you ride and park outside of the city limits again.” Fair enough. I left the scooter outside of my apartment and took advantage of the one-time warning.
Now we have Jump! bicycles which have motorized assisted pedaling and are solar powered. Not unlike Divy or Citi bikes in Chicago or New York respectively, these bikes are on demand as well, but the difference is you park it wherever you want like a Bird or Lime. No need to find a docking station to put them back which may take you away from your destination.They’re solar charged, and allow you to go slightly faster than scooters. Another unique option over scooters which started to show their signs of wear and tear. And finally we have Wheels, the fully motorized bike/scooter that I personally love the best. They’re really fast, but mildly inconvenient to find as the upfront cost to build and deploy is slightly higher than that of the e-scooter. Personally though, I’ll always choose a Wheel over a Bird because of the exhilaration I get riding one.
So what does this have to do with crypto? A lot.
This isn’t about the technology of the scooter or the bike. It’s about distinctively not talking about it and providing the solution to last mile, first mile, or all mile transportation options in city settings. For anyone who lives or has visited Santa Monica or Venice in California, you’ll see that these are distinctively more condensed areas than other parts of Los Angeles. Blocks are smaller, sidewalks are bigger, and there is a higher density of residential and commercial buildings within the city limits. Surface streets are de-prioritized for improved walking and pedestrian transit, with an emphasis on bike lines and diagonal cross-walks. However there’s still a distance that needs to be traveled and with only a bus network available for public transportation, getting from point A to B that’s over distance still isn’t easy to travel by foot. Waiting for an uber might take just as long as actually driving there, and buses are intermittently reliable. The need for something like Bird or Wheels is there — people just didn’t realize it until the final product showed up in front of them. All they had to do was whip out their phone, sign up, and hop on. From seeing it the first time to riding it, the whole process took less than 5 minutes (with good cell reception!).
And this is exactly the principal that we can apply to the crypto and blockchain space. When you look at a Bird or a Wheel, your initial thought isn’t what type of battery is being used, or who makes the components for the brakes, it’s how will this get me from my current spot to my destination quickly? And when it does, you hop off and lock the device walking away thinking “hey I’m not dead. That was fun!” You’re not wondering how are they monitoring this from a theft standpoint? How are they geotargeting and using my data? Those may be afterthoughts after a few rides, but to get comfortable with the product you’re using it in the real world, seeing that it is safe and convenient, and not was cheaper than an Uber, but more convenient than any other alternative. This is how we approach the marketability and usability of blockchain and cryptocurrency. We take the product out to the world in a manner that puts it in front of their face as something usable in their daily lives. An alternative to buses (banks), ridesharing companies (credit cards with fancy perks), and even within competing e-scooter services (Bitcoin vs Ethereum vs Bitcoin Cash). The market will eventually settle on what people prefer to use, but interoperability is a huge selling point. I have apps for all scooters and bikes on my phone because I might be in a location where one is available and the other isn’t. I just need a mode of transport when it’s too far to walk, but too close to wait for an uber. I could just walk, but time is valuable as well and finding the balance between time and cost is where the scooter sits. It’s where Bitcoin should sit too. But we don’t put that product in front of people. We don’t educated businesses on how to accept it as a payment here in the US as much as some other countries. We haven’t figured out the value of time and convenience when it comes to payments, because we’re so used to simply swiping a card and waiting for the payment to be cleared days later. Banks have the capability in today’s technology to clear payments instantly, but they choose to do them in batches because of trading funds on the backend on the open market. We let our money get tied up by institutions who profit on our funds, while we reap none of the benefits and believe travel perks and rewards are worth it - 31% of customers don’t redeem rewards!
So how do we move apply these methods? We start with the business owners who are seeking ways to accept electronic payments but without the processing fees charged by Visa or Mastercard. It’s great that consumers get into Bitcoin if they don’t have actual places to transact and get the things they need on a daily basis then what’s the true worth of it? Imagine just opening an app and seeing a map of every vendor around you that accepts Bitcoin.
The battle will continue as to whether or not Bitcoin is a store of value, but the ability for it to be a deflationary currency also means that we can use it as a global means of transaction. Governments may try to regulate it, but there’s no real way to control it. The beauty of Bird and Lime and every other scooter company is that they skirted the outdated laws and forced governments to keep up. They pushed the envelope of what’s legal and utilized the leverage of favorable public opinion towards what it meant of the future of transportation and helped craft the laws around it. Ultimately there are consumers on both sides of the transaction, and both have the power to move the market in a direction that is most favorable to them. It’s why Bitcoin is around in the first place — to go over the top of the institutions that have taken advantage of the consumer for far too long. But we have yet to show the consumer WHY they should switch and ditch their current bank. There’s no single place to point the finger, but if we don’t showcase the usecase of the tech, then it’s still vaporware and ultimately the consumer loses.