Zach Harvey the Man Behind the Bitcoin ATM

New Hampshire is out in front again — this time in a “revolution” in how we pay for things. And helping to lead the change is Manchester resident Zach Harvey. Two years ago, he and his brother Josh created an ATM for Bitcoin, an increasingly accepted alternative currency that is strictly digital. The ATM allows people to turn cash into Bitcoin, making the new currency much easier to use. Their company, Lamassu, has shipped machines all over the world with the ambitious goal of “creating seamless Bitcoin access for billions of people.”

Can you explain what Bitcoin is? Bitcoin is a decentralized digital currency and payment system. It is an open source software program that allows those who run it to trade value within the network. One easy way to think of it is as e-mail for sending money.

Why and when was the technology created? The technology was created in 2008 by a person (or persons) that called himself Satoshi Nakamoto. Though his, her or their identity is unknown, the software is completely transparent and may be audited by anyone who can read computer code. It was created to provide an independent and alternative monetary system not influenced by politics or any source of centralized control.

It seems both right and left on the political spectrum have reasons to like it. This is absolutely true. Though libertarians may have been the first to get excited about Bitcoin, many liberals believe in its power to combat crony-capitalism and level the playing field between banks and consumers.

It’s said that New Hampshire is leading “the revolution” in alternative currency. In what ways? When mega-retailer announced they had started accepting Bitcoin, New Hampshire had the most purchases per capita, by far. Manchester, NH, is the home of the longest-standing weekly Bitcoin meetup, started in July 2012. Earlier this year, Murphy’s Taproom in Manchester started accepting Bitcoin and installed a Bitcoin ATM about a month ago.

Why New Hampshire? Due to the native libertarian leaning of the state and members of the rapidly growing Free State Project, Bitcoin awareness is quite high.

It seems complicated — do you have to be tech-savvy? Less and less. In 2009 you had to be a hardcore software developer to do anything with Bitcoin. In 2014 many products have come out to make purchasing and using Bitcoin accessible for anyone that uses a computer or a smartphone. Our Bitcoin ATMs make it very easy to get Bitcoin, wallets such as MyCelium make it easy to use them. Payment processors such as BitPay and Coinbase make it extremely easy for merchants to accept Bitcoin as a payment method, even if they want it instantly converted to dollars in their bank account. That reduces the risk of fraud and credit card fees.

Is it risky to use? It solves many fraud issues that credit cards have and it is a revolutionary tool for moving money across borders, but as a technology it is still in its infancy. For speculating day traders it extremely high-risk and volatile. The user interface of Bitcoin will keep on improving and Bitcoin will be easier and less risky to use over the next few years.

How much is a Bitcoin worth? At this moment one Bitcoin is worth $330. [At press time, it had dropped to $237.]

Tell me how your Bitcoin ATM came to be? It started as a concept that a few of us discussed at the weekly Bitcoin meetups. Bitcoin was hard to obtain and we were looking for a simple solution. My brother, Josh, and I then took it to the next level and started Lamassu to design a production version that could be operated anywhere.

How does it work? It is extremely simple. You go up to the machine, press START, scan a QR code of your Bitcoin address, insert dollar bills and press SEND. Within moments the Bitcoin show up in your Bitcoin wallet.

Where can you find the ATMs? Do you distribute nationally? We have shipped more than 250 machines to 40 countries. About 40 percent of those are in North America. Our live locations can be found on our map:

Is it more amenable to online purchases? It is as easy to use online as it is in person and vice versa. All you need is a QR code or NFC chip on one side and a smartphone on the other. It is significantly easier and more secure to use than credit cards.

How much of your daily life can you finance with Bitcoin? There are many options for buying Amazon and Whole Foods gift cards via Bitcoin; one could probably survive off those two alone. Some car dealerships accept Bitcoin, and New Hampshire even has a gas station that accepts Bitcoin. The majority of merchants do not accept Bitcoin yet, in the same manner that it took about 10-15 years for businesses to have a website of their own.

What future do you see for Bitcoin? I think long term Bitcoin is fundamentally more solid as a currency and a money transfer system than the currencies planned by central banks. We will keep seeing volatility go down over the next 10-15 years and the payment system will become mainstream. I believe many of the financial services we use today will incorporate Bitcoin behind the scenes, but perhaps not provided by banks.

Some news outlets have said Bitcoin is popular in part because it makes it easier to hide illegal transactions. True? I don’t think it’s the reason Bitcoin has become popular, but it certainly does make headlines. Bitcoin is a powerful tool for free markets in the same sense that the Internet is a powerful tool for free speech.

Could it all collapse? Yes, of course. As could the ruble, the euro or the dollar. Bitcoin has the advantage of not being backed by debt.

I read the Winklevoss twins are investors. Are there Bitcoin stock funds to invest in? Yes, they are very bullish on Bitcoin. They are working on launching a Bitcoin ETF and are currently rowing through the murky regulatory waters.

Do you see it as a big money-maker? I’m a lot more excited about Bitcoin as a technology than as a speculative vehicle. There are people who have made money and people who have lost money. I think Bitcoin or a similar cryptocurrency will be huge and will reward those with foresight, but for those who trade it like a stock, it will not be a smooth ride.

Categories: Q&A