Whenever people discuss Bitcoin, a peer-to-peer, decentralized, digital currency, it always ends with a question of what one can buy using Bitcoin and now, a Bangalore-based e-commerce site called MadOverCoins has an answer. It is selling products that are made in India such as biscuits (฿0.0010-฿0.0040, chocolates (฿0.0030), ready to eat food items (฿0.0020-฿0.0040), sweets (฿0.0020-฿0.0040) and even a second hand Royal Enfield (฿3.00) exclusively in return for Bitcoins. The site also sells bottled water (฿0.0010), tender coconut (฿0.0010), packets of toffee (฿0.0020) and pickles apart from other items. The site currently delivers across the globe though it might take about two weeks for the goods to reach you depending on which part of the world you are in.
The website was started by Vikram Nikkam, who is part of Unobit Solutions, a group comprising of several other geeks, entrepreneurs and cryptologists that is working on promoting Bitcoin in India. The same group is also trying to help set up Buttercoin‘s India presence.
Natasha Ambrose, who is the spokesperson for the group and Nikkam’s wife, said that they got the idea for a Bitcoin-powered e-commerce site when they were traveling around the country after they came back from UK. During the journey, they met a lot of NRIs and foreigners who liked Indian products, so they decided to start selling these items online in return for Bitcoins.
Till now only a couple of people have bought items from the site and the purchased items included tender coconut (which was still in a good condition on delivery in UK) and biscuits. However, there has been no takers yet for the costliest item on the website, the Royal Enfield, which by the way was the same bike the duo traveled around in India after coming back from UK. Nikkam decided to put it on sale as he was not using it any longer.
The website has only used social media tools till now to promote itself and is targeting mostly bitcoin users in India and international bitcoiners who want items from India. All products are shipped directly from India and it has tied-up with a delivery partner for the same and most items are delivered within a week.
Nikkam started mining Bitcoins in 2009, but Ambrose says that they are not loaded with it as most people think. “We have given a lot of what we made, back to the community. We gave Bitcoins to friends and even to some people at Bitcoin meetups,” she says. Though the duo might have been more charitable with Bitcoin spending, that doesn’t seem to be the case world over, since people are hoarding Bitcoins as a form of investment. “That mentality will definitely change and we see a few guys who come for bitcoin meetups who use it for regularly and even trade in it. The price rise happened only in the last few weeks as its valuation went from $120 to $1,200 so it has turned into pure gold. But there is no dearth of people who want to trade in Bitcoins,” Ambrose says.
The company is self-funded as of now and Ambrose says that they haven’t approached any investors as they might want to know how much money it can make for them, which is not their goal. “We are trying to spread awareness about Bitcoins primarily and MadOverCoins is one of the ventures we started. There are lot of forum such as Kickstarter where we can raise money, but we haven’t used that yet,” she says.
What about the regulations?
Reserve Bank of India has not yet created regulations for trading or profits generated from Bitcoins and an RBI spokesperson recently told Mumbai Mirror that RBI doesn’t consider Bitcoin legal tender and, therefore “trading in Bitcoin is not legal. Obviously, there cannot be regulations from RBI for an illegal activity. People who use it, do so at their own risk and responsibility.” However, it needs to be noted that various sites (especially sites that deal in card based games) use virtual currency to buy virtual items so it is not clear what will eventually happen to Bitcoins in India.
RBI worries that if they legalise Bitcoin usage in India it could be used to move black money out of India and to buy goods that would not be legally available here.
Unobit meanwhile, is working with Google Ventures-backed Buttercoin which provides banks with white label bitcoin technology and API to monitor (to an extent) and handle Bitcoins. The group is talking to companies that create software for banks about the advantages of including Bitcoins into the existing framework. “There are RBI licenses that are needed to hold funds in India, which Buttercoin does not want to get into. However, Buttercoin wants to work within the legal framework of the country, so they are trying to offer a white label technology that the banks can use. So it’s two people bringing 50-50 to the table, banks have the licenses and Buttercoin has the technology,” Ambrose says.
Conference to boost awareness
Bitcoin community in India is still small, but it’s growing fast. According to SourceForge statistics quoted by Mint, 70% of the 35,648 Bitcoin downloads in India since the November 2008 launch took place in 2013. To get more people involved, Unobit is now organising a conference in Bangalore called Global Bitcoin Conference on December 14 and 15 to boost awareness about the currency among Indians.
The group has been working on it for a year now and they believe it’ll be the best place to get attention of banks and other financial institutions. “India is high up on the IT scale, so it was embarrassing that we are not contributing much to Bitcoins and Bangalore is fully IT right? It’s all IT geeks who have understood Bitcoin here, so we wanted to translate this concept for non-geeks,” Ambrose said.
“The value of Bitcoin has gone up now because of the amount China is mining and importing. We feel that India will miss out on the party if we don’t jump on the bandwagon pretty soon. There are a lot of financial institutions, IT geeks and entrepreneurs who want to be part of Bitcoin world, so we are bringing together people who are doing some serious work around Bitcoin and Bitcoin-backed ventures to speak to the community. That way, they will have a different perspective on what the currency is where it stands etc,” she says.