If you have been around since the early days of Bitcoin in Vietnam and Asia, you know David Watson.
Lifetime entrepreneur with a long history of experience across a variety of industries across several continents and cultures, David became in 2015 the first Vietnam-based merchant accepting Bitcoin in a professional set-up (read: You click on the website, choose payment type “Bitcoin BTC/Lightning” on top right of screen and proceed to check-out and pay in Bitcoin or Lightning).
As such, it was the year 2016 when he went head-on-head with representatives of the giants of Visa Card and Standard Chartered at Vietnam’s first Bitcoin-centric event BlockFin Asia.
As Founder and Director of Future.Travel, a core part of his mission of:
Making the world accessible for Bitcoiners.
Flights, visas, hotels, transportation, citizenship by investment:
All that and more is available via Future.Travel using Bitcoin as a form of payment, provided by a team which goes the extra mile to make the travel experience a smooth one for their clients.
BitcoinVN News: David, you are about to complete a full decade as Bitcoin-accepting merchant; pioneering the concept in Vietnam long before anyone else. What were some of the specific highlight stories during this time?
David Watson: It is amazing how fast time has passed since our first Bitcoin/ BTC transaction online. I look back on the video from the FinTech conference and my comments on security. The fraud levels certainly hit new highs for cards after that conference. We continue to have 10-50 fraud attempts a day on our site involving cards. The majority are caught by the card security interface, but still a huge number of attempts. Fraud is a numbers game so the bad players keep spinning the wheel of chance and it works. About 20-80% of ‘approved’ card transactions are caught out as fraud before ticketing, depending on location and routes. We have our own internal algorithms to identify those.
If you do the numbers of say 20 fraud attempts a day on average, over 365 days a year and take it to 10 years in business, we have weathered more than 73,000 fraud attempts via credit cards. While we see uncompleted Bitcoin/Lightning transactions over the same period as being less than 1000, and 90% would be attributed to non fraud factors if it was possible to track. So we are looking at maybe 100 possible fraud attempts over 10 years (less than 1 per month) for Bitcoin versus 73,000. As a merchant we have no worries with Bitcoin or Lightning payments for fraud. We have never had one successful fraud attempt on the platform when we accept Bitcoin or Lightning as a form of payment.
Vietnam has picked up its game for 3D security on cards and now most credit card fraud for banks here are seen (and always has) as being offshore bad players trying to defraud local merchants.
BitcoinVN News: Not only were you and your team at Future.Travel the first regular Bitcoin-accepting merchant in Vietnam; you also launched in 2019 the very first Lightning ATM in Asia; at a time when Lightning was far from the “big deal” it is today where business titans such as Jack Dorsey and David Marcus have entered the field in force.
What made Lightning payments click with you that quick ahead of most everyone else?
David Watson: Time is Money. We needed a way to speed up transactions to give the user an experience of a modern electronic transaction, generally 2-5 seconds in duration from request to approval. Lightning covered that and with an automatic Vietnam banking interface for our transactions it made sense. Meanwhile Bitcoin main chain transactions had slowed on-chain transaction times down with a clogged mempool and increased mining costs equating to increased transaction fees for merchants and customers, the effect priced Bitcoin out of the retail transaction realm. Lightning fixed the problem literally overnight. In reality early transactions had low value limits and Lightning Wallets were new to the scene, with few ways (exchanges) for BTC to be moved to Lightning channels. Time fixed everything and we literally saw overnight the migration to Lightning by many customers as the wallets, increased transaction values, and participating exchanges came into everyday life.
BitcoinVN News: While you and several others have been adopting Bitcoin early as merchants, we also have to be critical as a community that the merchant uptake by 2024 looks rather underwhelming compared to the expectations in 2014.
What has been your most successful pitch to get merchants and business operators interested into accepting Bitcoin for their business?
David Watson: I am first and foremost a merchant. I understand the pain points for businesses. Merchant fees, banks, fraud are all pain points. On the other positive side of a conversation are businesses wanting to accept online or digital payments. Lightning works and now with mobile devices able to accept retail and service payments through interfaces such as Wallet of Satoshi it is easy to onboard new casual merchants. In VN, bricks and mortar and online retailers have options to connect Lightning transactions for direct deposit in VND funds to their VN bank accounts in the same way that Visa, Mastercard, American Express etc are accepted as forms of payments converting foreign currencies to VND. In a world of uncertainty many merchants want to accept payments via non bank pathways, when they are set up with a Lightning merchant fee free transaction platform in 5 minutes they are sold. Partly behind the quick adoption of Lightning is the desire to acquire Bitcoin as a long term asset for the business or personally.
Underwhelming uptake by merchants is in part due to the future value of BTC being realised by a large % of the population (HODL’ing) and demand for use of the BTC diminished as a growing transaction percentage for businesses. If the value today is X and 10 years it is worth 10 or 100 times as much, why would you part with any BTC today? Maturity in the market has reduced the use in everyday transactions for common purchases. Better to use devaluing fiat currencies than to use a growing value Bitcoin for those purchases.
BitcoinVN News: After several years of rather restrictive visa laws which made it rather cumbersome for foreigners to travel and stay in Vietnam, the regulations began to ease up in late summer 2023.
What trends have you noticed and where is it going from here for Vietnam as a travel location?
David Watson: As the Covid restrictions were removed the flow of traffic resumed back to Vietnam and elsewhere. Easier visa processing and rules on longer stays make Vietnam desirable as a destination. That is the macro view and it has been born out by increased numbers arriving. Traditional inbound markets like Russia and China still are not back to pre-covid levels. From other origins Vietnam is still showing growth, unfortunately the war in the Ukraine and continuing Middle East problems, combined with global pressure from devalued fiat from inflation at the personal level, see some market populations not able to travel easily any longer as financial pressure keeps them at home.
BitcoinVN News: What is your outlook on Vietnam as a potential “greener pasture” for people who are looking for a life outside their current home country?
For which type of personality Vietnam might be a good fit? And which type of people will likely face a hard time adjusting to life in Vietnam?
David Watson: Vietnam is a green field in many ways. It is easy to live well below a western country’s poverty line and be living in high style in Vietnam. The benefit is on conservation of funds and the ability to save and invest surplus funds into global market opportunities including Bitcoin. If I had to pick a personality fit for Vietnam, where you see everything on the personality scale, I would see those that value peace as a way of life as being the best fit. The country is largely safe from violent crime so removal of that dynamic allows people to focus on other aspects of their life. Business people who don’t depend on others to make things happen, who can think for themselves and make their own magic do well. Just as they do in other places. Those who have funds flowing into their lives from outside of Vietnam, who do not depend on making a living in Vietnam to survive, are often the best fit for the environment.
The ones who don’t work (fit) and have a hard time in Vietnam are those who think that Asia is easy and can/should be manipulated to fit their view of the world. People who have no endgame in mind, who simply are looking for instant gratification can do ok in Vietnam for a short while as it is possible to party hard. Adjusting to a long term stay in Vietnam is difficult, imho, for those without a focus for a long game where Vietnam is just a stepping stone to financial freedom or a better life. The only way around the ‘local’ issue of visas, residency, land ownership, etc is to go local and marry into the country. Which brings on a new level of complexity particularly when it comes to travel and the partner needs a passport that allows for visa free travel to move freely around the world. We have been able to assist families to get to visa free travel reality in the same way that Bitcoin allows some people to reach financial freedom.
During his time in Saigon he contributed to the community and the people with advice, guidance and the occasional monetary contribution for the people in more unfortunate circumstances.
Moreover, David has built an excellent reputation as a travel agent of choice for everyone who likes to travel without headaches. Future.Travel is moving more to individual, family, and corporate travel services which are personalized and specific as humans find commodity based travel purchases lacking for support and forward planning for obvious problems with cross border and real time issues.
As his significant number of repeated clients over the years can confirm, with David and his team you are in good hands, they will put in their best effort to make your travel run as smooth as humanly possible.