Bitcoin ATM's user interface, courtesy Jeff Berwick
When I read Jeff Berwick’s press release last Monday, detailing his plans to unleash the world’s first bitcoin-powered ATM in Cyprus, it struck me as being a perfect, if unsubstantiated, story of bitcoin coming to the rescue of a Mediterranean isle under financial duress.
But as a wanderer in the frontier of the enlarging bitcoin community, it didn't feel particularly outlandish. If Berwick's company, Bitcoin ATM, doesn't succeed at making its pseudonymous device, someone likely will soon. Bitcoin is getting more real by the second. In March alone, we saw its value triple, and its market capitalization pass $1 billion.
While the Bitcoin ATM concept gathered a lot of attention, some rightly scrutinized Berwick's claims. Sure, Berwick hailing bitcoin as potentially a "multi-billion-dollar business" is perhaps speaking a bit hastily. While Business Insider seems a little more satisfied after Berwick responded to some of their skepticism, plenty of questions surrounding the ATM project remain unanswered–including those regarding regulations and licensing, government cooperation, functionality, exchange rates, social demand, fees, etc.
Currently, all we have is the rendered image above of Berwick's machine, which Berwick sent me along with a picture of a Bitcoin ATM receipt. That's a long way from last week, when Berwick told me that his machine was more or less ready to rock. After exhaustively nagging him for a picture of the real deal and only receiving renders, it feels like Bitcoin ATM is in much more of a concept and investment-accrual phase.
Still, our chat last week, which came as he cruised around Santiago, Chile (where he's been building a new development for libertarian expats) with the top down in a convertible, was rather interesting. We spoke about himself, his many businesses, and how he's planning to make money off the swelling crypto-currency.
Motherboard: Do you have a prototype of the ATM yet? What does it look like?
Berwick: Yes, of course, the first one is fully done and ready, we’re going to take pictures and videos of it tonight, and we might even do sort of a press release launch–maybe in Los Angeles–in the next week or so, to show everyone they’re working.
Jeff Berwick says bitcoin ATMs are the real deal.
That’s where our technology guys are.
What kind of location will you test it out in?
We’re looking for a location right now, probably just somewhere in a mall or something like that.
That would be a two-way transaction ATM? From fiat currency into bitcoin and from bitcoin into fiat currency?
I’ve seen you describe yourself as an anarcho-capitalist, and was wondering if that meant you're more of an anarchist that's interested in capitalism or a capitalist that’s interested in anarchism.
Anarchy just means that you want all transactions to be voluntary, and capitalism is basically the same thing. It’s basically the same word. Most people don’t understand the word anarchy very well.
Cody Wilson, who is making 3D printed guns–I don’t know if you saw our piece about him–he’s also been a part of the bitcoin community and is very interested in the disruptive aspect of open source–
Yes, I know about him, I’ve seen it.
He describes himself as a crypto-anarchist. Would you place yourself in a similar category, or are you more of a capitalist?
It just means that you don’t believe there’s any use for a governments. I believe in free-market enterprise. I’m a capitalist.
You say you believe this could be a multi-billion dollar business. As we speak, the market capitalization of bitcoin is surpassing $1 billion. How soon do you think something like Bitcoin ATM could accrue its first $2 billion?
I think over the next few years, obviously. I could easily see bitcoin going up to $1,000 or $10,000 per bitcoin. That would be a pretty big market, so, there’s going be a lot of billion-dollar bitcoin businesses.
The background on that is the Bitcoin ATM, which was developed about three years ago. We bought it about two months ago. It was only unidirectional; you could only put cash in, and you couldn’t take cash out. We spent a few months adapting it to be bidirectional, and we finished that in the last few weeks and decided to announce that it’s done, and that we’re going to put our first one out there. And we just looked around at the world and said, “Where’s the best place to put it right now?” and we looked at Cyprus. There were no banks open, no bank machines working, and said that we were going to try to put our first one there.
We’re mostly working on the logistics right now. Obviously we need a little bit of time, it’s still sitting in Los Angeles, so just with logistics and getting it all set up, it’s going to be at least a few weeks.
The machine doesn’t have anything to do with Zach Harvey and Matt Whitlock's Bitcoin Machine, does it?
No, I think they had something different.
When did you get into bitcoin?
I probably first heard about it a year and a half ago, and just seeing how it's advancing, I’ve become more and more excited about it. And with everything going on in the world right now... I write in the The Dollar Vigilante about how all the government currencies are going into collapse and we see this as being a free-market private currency. That of course is something I really like.
I like anything that comes from the free market, and I don’t like stuff that comes from the government. So to that credit, I think that bitcoin could be the next big currency.
Have you done any mining? Are you interested in mining?
No, I haven’t. I’m more of an entrepreneur, I start businesses, so I don’t do stuff like that too much.
You’re not interested in a bitcoin mining business? You haven’t considered starting something like that?
I haven’t really thought about that, but I’m looking at other things. I’m thinking about starting a bitcoin stock exchange right now.
So you’re on vacation in Chile right now? Or visiting? Don’t you live at your resort in Acapulco?
I live most of the time in Mexico, yes. But I’m starting up a libertarian expat community here in Chile, called Galt's Gulch Chile.
Is it similar to the place in Mexico?
No, this is much different, we bought an entire mountain valley and we are expecting to have a lot of homes be built on it, somewhat of a regular development.
What do you think about bitcoin ATM at large, in places like China and Russia?
I think it’s going to be everywhere. After our announcement, we have people in over 30 countries that want to buy our Bitcoin ATM machines. I think the whole world is in the market.
How about the writer from Business Insider that called the Bitcoin ATM story ‘bogus’ this morning?
I think he put a lot of stuff in there when he didn’t know what he was talking about. It would have been nice to talk to him. I haven’t had a chance to fully read the article, I’ve been doing interviews and meetings all day.
One of the points he discussed is that yours wouldn't be the 'only functioning ATM on the island." Which, in your release, I read as a bit ideologically leaning. I see his point. Functionally, he was right. The ATMs still work, but the central bank limited customers to €300 in daily withdrawals.
Thinking about what was said, you know, when I said my company was worth $240 million in 2000, and I sold it in 2002, that’s 100 percent factual. I didn’t embellish my life story, everything in that press release is factual.
I guess he says he called us, but we never got the call. I’m very available and send and receive e-mail all the time. I don’t know what happened, but it’s not very hard to get ahold of me as you can see.
For sure. Have any government regulators or officials tried to get in touch with you about any of this?
No one has tried to get in touch with me. I’m sure once we start putting machines in different countries, there will be some people talking to us. My initial look at it is there are no laws in any country that say you cannot have a machine that exchanges bitcoins for currency. But I’m sure many places might try to change the rules at some point.
What about places like your resort in Acapulco, or this community in Chile, will they be accepting bitcoin?
Oh yes! We accept bitcoins for all of our products, you can buy a property here in bitcoin, and condos in Acapulco, with bitcoins. We sell passports, you can buy those in bitcoin. We accept bitcoins for all of our products.
You sell passports for bitcoin?
On what site?
TDVPassports.com, you can get foreign citizenship in a number of different countries.
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