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Payment Processors, Patents and a Dollop of Healthy Paranoia

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Coindesk asks “Do Patent Filings from eBay and Western Union Pose a Threat to Bitcoin?” I feel  the question is in and of itself missing the point. picsay-1400512647To explain this fully, I have to share a little bit about myself, particularly my weaknesses. I’m the type of person who is very knowledgeable about his strengths and his weaknesses, but sometimes I don’t see my strength for what it is, and that is tantamount to a weakness in a highly competitive environment.

Case in point, in discussing whether or not competing patents have been filed for smart contract transacion processes by those who seek to be in my space with my contract engineer (a very skilled software architect and IP attorney), I displayed what I considered a healthy level of paranoid concern. I found it hard to believe that no one bothered to patent the most innovative, disruptive and groundbreaking aspect of this new crop of digital currencies – the ability to program them. As those who follow me know, I’ve spent a lot of resources developing, designing, refining and patenting advanced smart contracts (see How Reggie Middleton’s Start-up Patented The Future of Global Finance!). I actually found it highly unlikely that no one had come up with this idea before me. Matt (my contracts engineer) said, “You know, it actually takes an uncanny amount of vision to have seen the scope of this stuff and act upon it, not to mention to have done so 6 months ago. Not many people are like you.” Right then and there, it hit me. People really do not see things the way I do!

Most know me from my prescient calls in banking, finance, real estate and tech (see Who is Reggie Middleton?). I’ve demonstrated a knack for seeing future trends and determining when things (such as valuations and opportunities) are out of whack. With that being said, the big media interest in Bitcoin combined with the increasing VC interest in Bitcoin companies (reference BitPay Gets $30 Million in Venture Capital Funding) is a very good thing for the industry, but also illustrates shortsigtedness in both the investment community and many practitioners.

The problem with the processors…

When bitcoin is as easy as PayPal to use then it will be on the path to mass adoption, but to assume that’s the most lucrative path to take in bitcoin company private equity investment begs the wrong question. Here’s the strategic landscape as I see it.

Bitcoin is very inexpensive to use as a transfer agent. A transaction may be safely sent without fees if these conditions are met (this is excerpted directly from the Bitcoin Wiki, verbatum):

  1. It is smaller than 1,000 bytes.
  2. All outputs are 0.01 BTC or larger.
  3. Its priority is large enough

Otherwise, the reference implementation will round up the transaction size to the next thousand bytes and add a fee of 0.1 mBTC (0.0001 BTC) per thousand bytes. Note that a typical transaction is 500 bytes, so the typical transaction fee for low-priority transactions is 0.1 mBTC (0.0001 BTC), regardless of the number of bitcoins sent.

Bitcoin as of 5/18/2014 is $444.74m, thus the fee for this transaction is roughly 4 cents, if not outright free. If a processor is transferring $10,000 on behalf of a customer, whether at one time or 100 times throughout the course of a month, the processor’s fee cost would range from $0 to $4, while the processor would likely charge (as of the date of this writing, $0 to $100). The traditional processors such a Visa or Paypal  would charge hundreds (as in up to 50x more!) for the same deal!

That 25x markup on the high end is significant (even for the Bitcoin companies), and ripe for disintermediation itself (that’s right, the disintermediaing agents are poised for disintermediaion). Particularly once the UX of Bitcoin evolves, as email and web browsing did, and users realize how easy and cheap it is to jump onto the blockchain and do this stuff themselves.

Even assuming users don’t follow the historical model of those that left proprietary walled gardens (think AOL) and jumped directly into the open World Wide Web themselves, there are no material barriers to entry to enter into the processing business other than potentially a money transmitter license. The only material barrier, hence the business opportunity, is that Bitcoin is cumbersome to use. As the UI/UX polish increases and the amount of competitors in the space increase, the lower the prices charged – hence the margins – will be.

With such low barriers to entry and potentially humongous markups to exploit, what do you think happens next? The wild, untamed hordes of competitors swoop down upon the masses, and we have a concerted race to zero, and likely negative margin as competitors attempt to make processing a loss leader to draw users into the folds of richer, higher margin services!!!

 The race to marginal zero, then negative, does not make a strong business plan. So, what do these companies such as BitPay, Coinbase, etc. do once that point is reached (rather quickly)? They look to value added (high margin) services on top of their low margin, utility-like payment infrastructures.

Enter smart contracts and the true use of programmability in the crypto-currencies. The easiest and the likely first implementation of such will be multi-sig operations which allow multiple parties to share funds without having to worry about trusting and single party in a transaction. Our ZeroTrust Letters of Credit (patent pending) is just such a product. It allows for multiple parties to tranfer payment for simple and complex transactions contingent upon the mutual agreed upon successful execution of said transactions. This is done without the parties having to:

  1. Know each other
  2. Trust each other
  3. Have any form of proximity to each other;

and can be done using micropayments all the way up to multi-million dollar macro payments. The barriers to this business are much higher. For one, it takes more than just programming code. You have to be able to congeal the legal logic of the conventional law in equity contract into code. You have to be able to congeal the business logic into code, and you have to be able to implement it into the blockchain or whatever other underlying transmission mechanism you choose to utilize.

Once the race to negative zero is in full swing, a few of the wiser companies will wake-up and say “Hey, there has to be a better way, and we think we found it!”. It is at that point Reggie Middleton’s UltraCoin products and assets will shine. It is not hard to foresee that the entrenched companies (Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Western Union) may enter a bidding war with the new comers armed with material VC warchests (much more than we’re seeing with $30 million investments of today – all over the guys who had the foresight to see the next evolutionary step in plain vanilla payments – smart transactions and self-executing digital contracts and transactions.

We’re actively looking for financial and intellectual capital. If you, as an accredited investor, are looking for an opportunity in the higher end of the digital currency space, I think we should talk. In addition, if you are a higher level Java/C++ developer willing to take risk, we need to talk. I’m available at reggie at ultra-coin.com.

 


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