1.) Hi David – Back in June, your company – Future.Travel – made headlines to be the first Vietnam-based business to accept Bitcoin as a payment method for your services, so we are interested to hear more about this. But first of all, please let us know a bit about your personal background and the history of your company.
Sure, happy to chat about Bitcoin for merchants and more. For me personally, I am just the average guy. I grew up in a small farming town and was not ‘landed’ so was was one the ‘townies’. I left school early and went on a tour of life that has seen me in a more than few countries. Some of my ‘recent’ times were spent in Australia where I was a professional trainer in retail financial management and then a university lecturer in marketing and management. Along the way I started a small business that had a monthly budget of A$50/month to get it started. Three years later it was named as being one of Australia’s top 10 fastest growing businesses coming in at number 4. For next two years it was on the list at 8th and then 16th which is when it was sold.
With that era over I looked to other ventures and headed up a ‘agricultural’ start up company which we floated on the Australian ASSOB stock exchange. The company Urban Ecological Systems (https://www.bluesmartfarms.com.au/) manufactures ‘instant farms’ that provide sustainable organic food in urban settings. It was as the CEO of UES that brought me to Vietnam and got me enthused about this country and the possibilities that Asia presents for world in term of opportunities and direction for high density living and business.
2.) When did you personally find out about Bitcoin? How did your perception of Bitcoin and related technologies change over time?
I am not really sure of my first awareness of Bitcoin…..I do remember hearing about the first pizza being bought using Bitcoin. so about 6 years ago. I looked at it at that time as a ‘toy’ that gamers would use to build virtual cities and economies with as a virtual currency. It had no real value in the world as there was no easy way to make the transition from BTC to ‘real’ fiat currency. Luckily the pizza arrived and life changed from a gaming start to the ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers we see today in the thousands of merchants worldwide who accept Bitcoin for payment.
3.) You are now accepting Bitcoin in your business – as the first real vendor in Vietnam. How have been your experiences so far? Especially: How do the Bitcoin purchases perform in regard to other payment solutions which are offered by your company?
We have been underwhelmed by the Bitcoin response. It is for us a platform for receiving payments, with a finite number of users. We went into the project expecting a minimal uptake through the channel. To this point we have been hitting the expectations. That being said the indications is that our Vietnamese market is maturing and we are getting more local inquiries. While we are the only Bitcoin merchant offering airfares, the customers are wanting online hotels and cruise packages. The public demand is always 6 months ahead of us, our hotel/cruise packages will be launched in the next few weeks.
Being a BTC vendor online in Vietnam is not a problem for us. Offering the BTC payment as an option, as BTC are ‘borderless’ and we don’t have exchange issues between currencies or transfer problems seen with our credit card transactions, has provided us with some new ‘foreign’ markets. The majority of our BTC transactions are from/for USA customers, a traditionally difficult transaction location for Vietnamese businesses. Our first BTC purchase was for a flight from San Francisco to Phoenix, a domestic USA flight, so BTC allowed us to complete a transaction in USA.
Our Bitcoin retail interface through Tinkl, an Italian based merchant BTC clearance platform has been flawless in transactions. We have a 4-8 second transfer of funds wait which is up to 24 hours faster than our credit card systems. The best part… no chargebacks. That one issue is worth thousands to us in productivity gains as we don’t need to pull staff off of other projects to ‘defend’ our sales process.
4.) Given your experiences so far – would you recommend other businesses to adopt Bitcoin as alternative payment mechanism?
I see the ‘big boys’ buying into offering BTC settlement for transactions. It is a no brainer to see that something is afoot to move to digital currency. For any business with a 3- 5 or a 2-10 year business timeline for growth I would say ‘get in now’ and cement your position as a longtime merchant.
I would be wary of Bitcoin merchant platforms that only allows for nationals of their own country (example USA) purchase or deal with them. We use Tinkl in Italy for this very reason, as we could not easily find a way to manage the fiat interface via other existing BTC merchant platforms. Second to this is to be sure to have the ability to instantly convert your BTC purchase to a fiat currency if you did not intend to hold BTC. For low margin businesses (like travel) this is key to managing the risk from exchange fluctuations on the day/week.
5.) You are also a member of the Bitcoin community in Saigon – what impact could Bitcoin potentially have in the Vietnamese economy in the coming years according to your opinion?
Bitcoin will take off here when the ATM’s arrive. People need to see BTC in action and accepted the same as ‘cash’ for it to get traction. Resort cities, airports, and tourist zones with a high turn over of cash and tourists would be key locations to get the ball rolling. When Starbucks or Coffee Bean start accepting BTC you will see the market explode with acceptance. Anytime an economy can ‘increase’ the funds on street it is good for business. BTC in Vietnam allows for those fiat funds to flow in and to be spent locally. That is good for business on the street and it flows upwards to the government purses when they collect the tax on goods and services.
6.) Vietnam has got a lot of positive attention in the international media lately as one of the most promising emerging markets in the coming years; we also saw quite a few positive and reasonable economic reforms by the Vietnamese government in the recent past. What is your general take on Vietnam as a business location – and what kind of development you are expecting to happen over the next few years in Vietnam – as well as the ASEAN region as a whole?
Wow that is a big bite! I am in Vietnam because I believe it is one the most under valued economies in the region. With that said, there are signs the government have some good targets in mind that they can afford. Unlike some neighbours to the north, Vietnam’s economy is still growing and the long term view is they have managed the crisis’s that brought down others quite well. Vietnam is not perfect and the pace of change is slow….but there is change. I am bullish on the potential for the country over the next 30-40 years.
As an ASEAN country I believe Vietnam is punching well above its’ weight in the region and will continue to do so. The ASEAN region has solutions that work at many levels and the world is figuring this out. Singapore – the model city of cultural diversity and high density, is known for its’ utilization of human intelligence as the basis of its’ “market strength and presence”. It is testament to what is possible in the region. Vietnam has the intellect and the land…so give it some time and it will become a great powerhouse in Asia.