Accept Bitcoin for access to Slack?

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are building serious momentum at the moment. As such, an impressive number of SlackPass members are asked if it’s possible to use Bitcoin to charge for access to their community. Well, it turns out, like most things in life, the answer is isn’t a simple yes or no.

We’ve just completed a research sprint into implementing Bitcoin as a payment method for SlackPass, learned a ton, and bumped up against some surprising limitations.

The primary challenge to accepting Bitcoin on SlackPass boils down to the fact that Bitcoin is a push instead of pull technology. All transfers must be user initiated. This limitation makes subscription, or reoccurring billing problematic. For this reason, Stripe (our payment service) supports one-time charges with Bitcoin pretty easily, but doesn’t support reoccurring billing at all.

That said, the SlackPass team is super excited about the potential of Bitcoin, Etherium and other cryptocurrencies. In fact we are playing with the idea of our own ICO ( Initial Coin Offering ). Pretty cool right!?

What follows are potential workarounds that our team has been exploring. We aren’t experts in this space, and if you have an alternate solution, or have a strong preference we’d love to hear from you.

Option 1: Single Bitcoin charge with reminders

We could add a Bitcoin option to our page creation interface which would support one-time Bitcoin payments. It would generate an additional embed code specifically for Bitcoin. Initially you’d need to remind your customers to re-subscribe at the interval of your choice. In the future we could set an auto-reminder for the customer after a certain duration (i.e one year), and both of you would get an email informing of the need to purchase access again via the sign up page.

This would mean that members would have the standard subscription payment option using a credit card, but would have a separate link somewhere on your site for a one-time Bitcoin payment.

Combining one-time Bitcoin payment and subscription based credit card payment into the same widget, wouldn’t be possible because it would be mixing one-time Bitcoin payments and monthly subscriptions. I’d also imagine that you’d prefer they use a credit card for monthly subscriptions rather than requiring your customers to purchase a single month using Bitcoin every month. I’m pretty confident that requiring someone to pay via Bitcoin each month would make churn unacceptable.

Option 2: CoinBase wallet required

CoinBase is a very popular Bitcoin wallet. Since CoinBase controls the crypto keys, they are able to initiate transactions on behalf of their users. This made it possible for them to provide a subscription based payment solution on top of Bitcoin.

The advantage here is that true Bitcoin subscriptions would be supported by implementing their API here: https://developers.coinbase.com/docs/merchants/recurring-payments

BitPay is another Bitcoin wallet and API that supports recurring payments . Other wallets/service providers will I’d imagine will start supporting subscriptions via their wallets as well.

The disadvantage is that in order for customers to sign up they would need to adopt the the specific service and wallet (BitPay, Coinbase, etc). Some potential customers may argue that this defeats the decentralized nature of Bitcoin, and it adds the initial friction to payment by requiring that customers sign up and transfer funds to an additional Bitcoin wallet/payment-processor before signing up for your Slack group.

In Summary

Unfortunately it’s clear that neither of these options are optimal. Both have significant drawbacks. I’ve even found some half baked attempts to address this issue by creating your own custom wallet service. The security risk with this approach greatly outweighs the benefits. Just as we don’t want to store credit cards, we don’t want to store Bitcoin crypto keys.

Looking forward to your thoughts on this! Are you excited about cryptocurrencies? Do you want to charge for access to a Slack community via Bitcoin? Don’t hesitate to reach out at tucker@slackpass.com, I’d love to chat!

Want to charge for access to your community? Check us out at SlackPass!