The definitive guide to BTCPay Server pt. 1: Interview with Pavlenex, founder of Bitcoinshirt.co
This article was co-written with Pavlenex, of Bitcoinshirt.co.
There has been a ton of excitement around highly anticipated Bitcoin projects like the Lightning Network, and Wasabi wallet, which address long-standing issues with scalability and fungibility. Another project that has been quietly gaining steam has been BTCPay Server. BTCPay is one of the most exciting projects in Bitcoin in my opinion. It bills itself as a “Payment Processor for Sovereign Individuals”.
What this means is that BTCPay gives you complete control over your ability to accept Bitcoin in a secure fashion. BTCPay is a self-deployed server that sets you up with a Bitcoin full-node, Lightning Network node, and payment processor capacity. You basically become your own bank and Bitpay alternative, all in one easy to use interface. This lets you process payments for your own brick and mortar business or website, (and anyone else) without public address re-use, charging fees, compromising privacy or risk of de-platforming for thought crimes.
Shitcoiners don’t despair, BTCPay is compatible with a number of shitcoins, too.
BTCPay has a ton of integrations giving users a wide variety of options. It was developed by Nicolas Dorier, a Bitcoin developer who also developed NTumblebit, a Coinjoin implementation covered in our anonymity guide. BTCPay is an open source project, which means anyone can contribute.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Pavlenex, the founder of Bitcoinshirt.co, who was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions we had about the BTCPay Server project while he was traveling. Pavlenex was one of the earliest adopters of BTCPay, and integrated it into his own e-commerce store (Bitcoinshirt.co).
Pavlenex quickly became a contributor to the BTCPay project, creating a wonderfully easy to follow “How to create an online store and accept Bitcoin — Step by Step Guide” tutorial and working on the official BTCPay documentation as well. I want to give special thanks to Pavlenex for managing to do the interview despite his busy schedule and travel.
Interview with Pavlenex
Q: How did you discover Bitcoin?
A: The first time I heard the word Bitcoin, was in 2013 when a brother of mine, who was 12 at that time, asked me to lend him $100 so he can buy Bitcoin and send them to a kid in another country. Those two worked on a web project, but since they were minors, they had no bank accounts. Bitcoin was the only way for them.
He briefly explained that Bitcoin is money for the internet and that miners create this magical money out of thin air. I immediately dismissed the idea, told him it’s a scam and that I will wire the money to his friend’s father, which is what we did. I paid 20% in fees and settled the deal without ever thinking how absurd the fee was.
Looking back, I was short-sighted and failed to see the power of permissionless value transfer. I regret not seeing that sooner.
I got into Bitcoin, probably at the end of 2016, early 2017. I think I stumbled upon on a YouTube documentary. I remember I looked at the price and said I wish I bought Bitcoin back in 2013. I still thought it was a scam, but decided to go down the rabbit hole and see why people find it valuable.
I’m the type of person who always reads a manual before going into anything. At first, I watched Andreas Antonopoulos’ videos and read a few books. Then, asked questions on Reddit and BitcoinTalk forum. The more I learned, the less I knew. Once one grasps the basic concept of why Bitcoin matters, you can never go back. Since then, I constantly learn each day, and that’s what excites me the most.
Q: How did you get involved with BTCPay?
A: I found out about BTCPay on Reddit. It came at the perfect moment since I was looking for a way to accept Bitcoin payments on my web-shop. While researching, I was so mad that everything I learned about Bitcoin being peer-to-peer value transfer without intermediary didn’t apply in payment processing. I was frustrated about the fact that processors charge the fees and act as a middleman, which made no sense at all. Someone posted about BTCPay and I joined their Slack and began asking questions.
At that time, the community was tiny, perhaps 20 people or so. I was surprised by how everyone, especially Nicolas Dorier were helpful and open-minded. They guided me to the process of setting everything up, which at that time for a newbie like myself took 3–4 hours. Once I set it all up and receive my first test payment, that self-sovereign feeling, you can never forget that. It’s so powerful knowing you’re your own bank.
I wanted to help others to feel that power, so I started learning more and helped others along the way.
Since then, I’ve made a lot of videos and improved BTCPay documentation together with other community members who are now quite a valuable resource for the newcomers.
My profession is in marketing, but BTCPay didn’t need any marketing. It was lightyears ahead of other solutions, people weren’t just aware of its existence, so I worked on educating people.
It was really tough at first, as I had to explain everything, but I am happy to say that now when you ask “How to accept Bitcoin” the majority of people will tell you BTCPay and I feel really proud when someone references mine to my guides.
Q: What can you tell us about the future of the BTCPay project?
A: BTCPay is re-defining the way in which businesses and individuals can receive payments. When using BTCPay, you’re your own self-hosted payment processor. In the short term, I would like to see a bit better user-interface and more integrations. That all needs we need more developers but also non-technical contributors. Long-term, I expect that BTCPay becomes a standard for merchants and people who just want to accept Bitcoin for their business.
Q: What will the Atomic Swaps feature look like?
A: If you’re already familiar with the concept of Atomic swaps, I highly recommend you to watch this video presentation where Ethan Heilman and Nicolas Dorier talk explain and showcase how it looks in BTCPay. There’s an atomic swaps branch on BTCPay GitHub which you can use today. It’s still a proof of concept, so please don’t use that in production.
Q:What will Atomic swaps mean for BTCPay users?
A: It would extend the use-case of BTCPay even further. In practice, it would mean that everyone can become ShapeShift alternative if they have enough liquidity to provide and allow merchants to convert their coins and transact freely on different chains. People could trade cryptocurrencies just by running BTCPay, think of it as a self-hosted P2P exchange.
Nicolas Dorier is a magician when it comes to integrating all of these amazing protocols into a single project. BTCPay is so much more than just a payment processor, and we’ve barely started.
Q: Have you seen a lot of Businesses make the switch from Bitpay?
A: BTCPay is decentralized software. There’s no way for us to track the users, so we don’t have any precise data. Our Slack is growing, and I’ve noticed that the volume of questions on GitHub increased as well. I think the biggest setback for the majority of BitPay merchants is instant fiat conversion. We already have a working prototype coded by our amazing RockStarDev, and I’m sure very soon people will be able to convert their cryptocurrencies received from BTCPay to their local exchange automatically and instantly, which will enable them to mitigate the volatility risk.
In the spirit of BTCPay, that will also be decentralized, and we will allow merchants to choose exchanges they want and liquidate or the entire amount with their exchange.
Q: What can you tell us about your project, Bitcoin Shirt Co?
A: Bitcoinshirt.co is an online store that sells Bitcoin merchandise.
It all began one day, when I wanted to have a Bitcoin T-Shirt but didn’t like any of the designs, so I made one myself and shared it on Reddit and BitcoinTalk. Someone mentioned he would buy it, so I spent the next 3–4 months building my t-shirt business. It was so much fun. Thanks to it, I learned a lot and got to know so many people. People I once looked up and admired, suddenly became a part of my everyday life. I am so thankful for that.
The best way to understand Bitcoin is to use it. That’s what I did. It allowed me to grow personally and talk daily with some of the smartest people in the space. That’s huge. You can’t do that in other communities so easily and fast.
Q: What is in store for Bitcoin Shirt in 2019?
A: I hope we’ll expand our product line and add more items to our store, together with some new designs. I would like to help artists sell their own designs via our store one day.
Q: What inspired you to put together such a comprehensive and detailed tutorial on BTCPay? (Thanks, by the way, I learned a lot from it).
A: It was that someone on Twitter said they would like to create an online store and accept Bitcoin, but had no technical knowledge. So I took a month off and decided to make a tutorial that will help a newbie with no technical knowledge or skills, create an online store with minimal upfront costs by using open-source software. The result was detailed step by step tutorial and over 19 videos that hand-hold user through each click. It got lots of attention, and I think as a result of it at least 5–6 new merchant appeared, and for me, that’s a big step.
Q: Have you seen a lot of BTC usage among your customers?
A: Our business model and our customers are quite specific. They are true Bitcoiners who are familiar with paying with Bitcoin, so the majority of our payments are BTC payments. I’d say probably around 80%.
Q: What about Lightning Network usage among your customers?
A:Thanks to BTCPay being the first processor to implement the Lightning Network (somewhere in February 2018), we were one of the first stores that began accepting off-chain payments. It was much harder than it is now, just a year after and I’m proud to say that we now have more payments via the Lightning Network than via the off-chain (probably 60–40 ratio the last time I looked).
Q: How do your suppliers feel about doing business in BTC?
A: Unfortunately, that’s the toughest part of being a merchant and the reason why we still need fiat to do business. Of all of our suppliers the only one takes Bitcoin, so we always have to balance between the fiat and Bitcoin. I try to keep the majority of profits in BTC and try to spread it through the ecosystem by supporting other merchants. It would be much easier if everyone accepted Bitcoin. We’re still not there, but that supply chain grows each day.
Being a bitcoin business is still a risky thing, but it can pay off in the future, and there’s money to be made if you’re running your business properly and for the long run, not just for the short-term gains. You also gain valuable knowledge, and that’s priceless.
Q: What would you recommend for a noob looking at implementing BTCPay?
A: 1. Deploy self-hosted BTCPay server in under 2 minutes or use a third-party host to test it out.
2. Read the getting started guide.
3. Read docs to see what you can do with BTCPay (launch a crowdfunding campaign, be the processor for other friends, create a payment button to receive donations, launch web-Point of Sale and much more.)
Q: What kind of general response has Bitcoin Shirt received?
A: At first, we were dismissed as just another lame Bitcoin t-shirt store. However, we’re different, because we really listen to our customer’s feedback and we improve based on that. I think that we went from just another shirt store to one of the best places to buy bitcoin t-shirt. BTCPay helped us a lot in that way. Customers love when they see BTCPay at the checkout.
Q: What are your thoughts on OpenNode?
A: I like what OpenNode is doing. I know people think they’re competitors to BTCPay, but we’re here for the same reason — spread the adoption. We often forget who our real competitor is, and that’s traditional banking system. We are fighting the same battle. They are supportive of BTCPay, and I’m happy to say that I always recommend them as one the best custodial solutions, together with CoinGate. I think they’re doing a great job at simplifying the on-boarding process for newbies.
At this point, we need those custodial solutions to easier on-board people.
There’s a funny story, but I met their CTO, João Almeida back in December 2017 on Slack — before Lightning was cool. He had this early prototype of a WordPress plugin that connected to a Lightning Node, and he was looking for a merchant to help him test it out.
I implemented the plugin in our store for two weeks, and we tested it out. Spent a lot of times going back and forth and he really helped me learn about the Lightning Network.
Months later, João’s plugin became the OpenNode. I was so happy when they received the funding recently, those young guys worked so hard and really deserved it.
Q: What is the most exciting thing in Bitcoin in your opinion?
A: Right now, it has to be the Lightning Network. The pace of development and adoption is incredible. As someone who used the protocol from the beginning, I can tell you it’s getting easier each day. The best thing in Bitcoin has to be the community.
Q: What kind of future do you see for Bitcoin in e-commerce?
A: Lightning Network is a game-changer for merchants both brick and mortar and online. It solves common problems, but it’s still very hard for non-technical merchants and also risky. If you’re a merchant, learn about Lightning by using it. You don’t have to accept it right away — experiment with it in your spare time. You’ll be so far ahead of your competitors once the protocol matures. That will happen sooner than we all think.
Q: Does your store only accept BTC? Or do you also accept shitcoins?
A: We only accept Bitcoin on-chain and through the Lightning Network. I must say that I don’t mind merchants accepting other coins, believe it or not, they all either convert it to fiat or to Bitcoin. Most merchants want a secure and stable asset for their business.
My customers don’t ask for altcoins, neither do I want to accept them, so we’re on the same page.
Q: Does your store accept traditional payments in fiat and credit cards, etc?
A: A small portion of our customers buy items as a gift for someone who likes Bitcoin. Those customers don’t own Bitcoin and aren’t interested in it, so for them, we have PayPal. The long-term goal is to enable an easy way for those people to buy Bitcoin and pay with it. Then, we can eliminate those really bad payment processors entirely.
Q: How has your BTCPay experience differed from traditional payment processors like Stripe, PayPal and 2checkout?
A: It’s really no different than any other payment processor. The customer proceeds to check-out, they’re presented with an invoice which they have to pay simply by scanning a QR code. Merchant automatically gets an update in the e-commerce software and can ship the item once the transaction is confirmed. It’s all automated, you can even export invoices and add them to your accounting software.
Q: How could Liberapay benefit from BTCPay? (https://medium.com/liberapay-blog/liberapay-is-in-trouble-b58b40714d82, https://liberapay.com/)
A: Anyone who’s financially excluded can become a self-hosted payment processor with BTCPay. There’s no more excuse. If your business is being censored, stop trying to benefit from the Streisand effect and become self-sovereign. Ditch third parties.
Q: Do you have any Bitcoin predictions for 2019?
A: The lightning network will be a game-changer for merchants. More people will use Bitcoin in commerce, and I think that with lightning that mindset of people not spending Bitcoin will slowly fade-away. The new business will be made.
Q: What is your estimation of BTCPay adoption?
A: I believe that in 2019 we’ll triple our community and have more merchants and users. Developers will build plugins and applications that will be made on top of BTCPay.
Q: Is there anything we have not covered that you’d like my readers to know?
A: Yes, there is.
Never stop learning. Your knowledge will be a sought-after asset in future that nobody can’t take away. Don’t just sit and tweet. Start a small business, even if it fails, you’ll gain valuable knowledge. Share the experience you acquired, and others will do the same. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Ignore trolls and just BUIDL. You don’t have to be a technical person or a developer to improve Bitcoin and influence people’s lives. Everyone can make a difference in a decentralized system.
If you need any help, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, my dm’s are always open.
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