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Bitcoin in China

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There has been renewed interest in Bitcoin in China as an alternative currency and speculative asset.

Much like the impact of shifts in demand in China on global markets, shifts in the volume and direction of Bitcoin trading in China has been driving the global price of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin’s first major price spike, to over $1000 USD per Bitcoin (BTC) in late 2013, was driven by a sharp rise in demand for Bitcoin in China.

At the end of 2015 Bitcoin’s price made a comeback, climbing to over $400 USD per BTC, and it was driven by another sharp rise in Bitcoin trading volumes and user activity in China.

So what is driving the renewed demand for Bitcoin in China?

Bitcoin's price has been led by sharp shifts in trading in China in 2013 and 2015.
Bitcoin’s price has been led by sharp shifts in trading in China in 2013 and 2015.

Apart from the volatility on China’s A-Share market, some outside observers claim that depreciation pressure on the Chinese currency, the Yuan, is driving the renewed interest in Bitcoin in China.

Zero Hedge, for instance, has also claimed that Chinese users are using Bitcoin to evade China’s capital controls and to move cash out of the country—a question to which we will return.

But first, some background on Bitcoin.

Bitcoin: a quick intro

Bitcoin is a digital currency–a form of digital cash–which enables individuals and businesses to make direct peer-to-peer payments without using banks or other financial intermediaries. Bitcoin is therefore a channel for financial disintermediation.

Bitcoin is also an alternative currency and a speculative asset. Whereas the major world currencies, like the US dollar or the Chinese Yuan, are government-backed fiat currencies, Bitcoin derives its ‘authority’ from an encrypted public ledger system called the blockchain.

The Bitcoin protocol was first outlined in a pseudonymous paper by Satoshi Nakamoto in November 2008 and the first version of the Bitcoin software client was released via a crypto mailing list in 2009.

Compared to traditional bank payments systems, Bitcoin’s blockchain is more secure and the time needed to settle Bitcoin transactions takes minutes rather than days.  Bitcoin is based on an encryption protocol, hence the term cryptocurrency, and all Bitcoin transactions are made through its encryption algorithm.

Bitcoin transactions are recorded on an encrypted public ledger system and verified through a process called mining. Bitcoin mining is the process by which distributed computer nodes compete to solve the encryption problem on the Bitcoin key-chain system. Bitcoin users have public and private keys (payments addresses), and the encryption process is used to match or resolve these keys.

As each transaction is verified it is recorded in the public ledger system as proof of payment, and this proof of payment or settlement is publicly available and accepted in the length of time it takes to solve the first computer node to solve encryption problem – currently about 10 minutes. In contrast, traditional bank payments take anything from 1 business day to settle local payments to 4-5 days to settle international payments.

Bitcoin therefore radically reduces the costs of making cross-currency and cross-border payments and one of the early Bitcoin applications is as a vehicle for migrant workers to make international remittance payments.

Bitcoin-based payments use in developing countries is growing rapidly, especially Latin and South American countries and across Africa, and for good reason.

Today using Bitcoin a Mexican worker earning US dollars in the United States could deposit Bitcoin to their electronic Bitcoin wallet, which is linked to a payments card held by a relative in Mexico, who could then use the card to make payments at the local supermarket chain.

Compared to international bank transfers, or Western Union, all of this could be done in real time at a cost of one per cent or less using current Bitcoin based applications.

It is also cheaper for merchants to accept Bitcoin payments than credit card payments. Whereas merchants are usually charged 2-3 percent per transaction by credit card companies, a business set up to accept Bitcoin can reduce this cost to as little as 0.5 percent.

And because users can make peer-to-peer transactions anywhere in the world without the need for banks or traditional payments companies, Bitcoin can bypass capital controls.

While the current global value of Bitcoin is small—an equivalent of $6.3 billion USD on January 1, 2015–over US $50 billion was invested in Bitcoin-based technology applications in 2015.

Bitcoin in China

Bitcoin in China got off to a slow start. This changed in May 2013, when China’s national CCTV television station aired a highly favourable documentary on Bitcoin.

The result was a flood of Chinese retail investor money into Bitcoin.

Downloads of Bitcoin clients in China for desktop computers, which allow users to buy and sell Bitcoins, surpassed downloads in all other countries.

In October 2013, Bitcoin was even briefly accepted as a means of payment by merchants on China’s e-commerce giant Taobao.com and by Baidui’s Jiasule software security company.

This briefly integrated Bitcoin into China’s payments system.

Chinese Yuan (CNY) denominated Bitcoin trades soon surpassed US-dollar denominated Bitcoin trades and this drove Bitcoin’s market price to an all time high of over $1000 USD per BTC in late 2013.

Bictoin mining also took hold in China as as people downloaded the open source Bitcoin mining software in the hope of turning some new coins into a rapidly increasing asset prices.

As bitcoin mining became more difficult, requiring more computing power to earn bitcoins, more powerful Bitcoin mining computers were manufactured in China and these also became available through Taobao, China’s largest business to consumer e-commerce platform.

Yet, as Zennon Kapron explains in his book Bitcoin’s explosive growth in China also triggered its downfall.

China’s authorities’ responded to this flood of cash into Bitcoin–which was not under government or centralised company control—by cracking down.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) issued a notice prohibiting financial institutions from dealing in Bitcoin on December 5, 2013. The following day, the PBOC also ordered the largest third party payment companies, including Alibaba’s Alipay to halt Bitcoin digital currency transactions. Two days later, BTC China, the largest Bitcoin exchange in China, was forced to stop accepting Renmibi (RMB) deposits.

Not only retail investors, but also Bitcoin miners sold out of Bitcoin as quickly as they could and Bitcoin’s global price fell more than 50 per cent, led by the sell-off in China.

Bitcoin’s future in China appeared to have been bought to early demise. And yet while Bitcoin attracted few new users in China since its 2013 peak, Bitcoin mining and trading activity in China continued to grow. Chinese Bitcoin exchanges now account for over 90 percent of global Bitcoin trading activity and China accounts for as much as half of all global Bitcoin mining activity.

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About the Author

This article was written by Luke Deer of Frontiers of Finance in China.

Callum Connects

Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Entrepreneurship

Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read, “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang

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Before you enter a Startup or before you choose your founding team or new hires read “Entering Startupland” by Jeff Bussgang.

Jeff knows how to spot and groom good culture, as the book session was held in Zestfinance a company he invested in and now, “The Best Workplaces for Women” and for “The Best Workplaces for Tech”, by Fortune.

These are the questions during the Book Launch.

How to know if a hire including the founder is Startup material?
Jeff says to watch for these qualities.

First, do the hires think like an owner?
Second, do the hires test the limits, to see how things can it be done better?
Are they problem solvers and are biased toward action?
Do they like managing uncertainty and being comfortable with uncertainty? And comfortable with rapid decision-making?
Are they comfortable with flexible enough to take in a series of undefined roles and task?

How do we know if we are simply too corporate to be startup?

Corporate mindsets more interested in going deep into a particular functional area? These corporate beings are more comfortable with clear and distinct lines of responsibility, control, and communication? They are more hesitant or unable to put in the extra effort because “it’s not my job”.

If you do still want to enter a startup despite the very small gains at the onset, Jeff offers a few key considerations on how to pick a right one.

He suggests you pick a city as each city has a different ecosystems stakeholders and funding sources and market strengths. You have to invest in the ecosystem and this is your due diligence. Understand it so you can find the best match when it arises.
Next, to pick a domain, research and solidify your understanding with every informational interview and discussion you begin. Then, pick a stage you are willing to enter at. They are usually 1)in the Jungle, 2) the Dirt Road or 3) the Highway. The Jungle has 1-50 staff and no clear path with distractions everywhere and very tough conditions. The Dirt Road gets clearer but is definitely bumpy and windy. Well the Highway speaks for itself, doesn’t it?

Finally Please – Pick a winner!

Ask people on the inside – the Venture Capitalists, the lawyers, the recruiters and evaluate the team quality like any venture capitalists would. Would you want to work for the team again and again? And is the startup working in a massive market? Is there a clear recurring business model?

After you have picked a winning team and product, how would you get in through the door?

You need to know that warm introductions have to be done. That’s the way to get their attention. Startups value relationships and people as they need social capital to grow. If you have little experience or seemingly irrelevant experience, go bearing a gift. Jeff shared a story of a young ambitious and bright candidate with no tech experience who went and did a thorough customer survey of the users of the startup she intended to work with. She came with point-of-view and presented her findings, and they found in her, what they needed at that stage. She became their Director of Growth. Go in with the philosophy of adding value-add you can get any job you want.

And as any true advisor would do, Jeff did not mince his words, when he reminded the audience that, “If you can’t get introduced you may not be resourceful enough to be in startup.”

Startupland is not a Traditional Career or Learning Cycles

Remember to see your career stage as a runs of 5 years, 8 or 10 – it is not a life long career. In Startup land consider each startup as a single career for you.

Douglas Merrill, founder of Zestfinance added from his hard-earned experience that retention is a challenge. Startup Leaders to keep your people, do help them with the quick learning cycles. Essentially from Jungle to Dirt road, the transition can be rapid and so each communication model that starts and exists, gets changed quickly. Every twelve months, the communication model will have no choice but to break down and you have to reinvent the communication model. Be ready as a founder and be ready as a member of the startup.

Another suggestion was to have no titles for first two years. So that everyone was hands-on and also able to move as one entity.

Effective Startupland Leaders paint a Vision of the Future yet unseen.

What I really enjoyed and resonated with as a coach and psychologist was how Douglas at the 10th hire thought very carefully what he was promising each of his new team member. He was reminded that startups die at their 10th and their 100th hires. He took some mindful down time and reflected. He then wrote a story for each person in his own team and literally wrote out what the company would look like and their individual part in it. In He writing each of the team members’ stories into his vision and giving each person this story, it was a powerful communication piece. He definitely increased the touch points and communication here is the effective startup’s leverage.

Douglas and Jeff both suggested transparency from the onset.

If you think like an owner and if you think of your founding team as problem solvers. Then getting transparent about financials with your team is probably a good idea. As a member of a startup, you should insist on knowing these things
Such skills and domain knowledge will be valuable. There is now historical evidence of people leaving startups and being a successful founder themselves because they were in the financial trenches in their initial startup. Think Paypal and Facebook Mafia.

What drives people to enter a startup?

The whole nature of work is changing. Many are ready to pay to learn. Daniel Pink’s book Drive showed how people are motivated by certain qualities like Mastery, Autonomy and Where your work fits into big picture. Startups do that naturally. There is a huge amount of passion and the quality of team today and as it grows then the quality of company changes.

The Progress principle is in place, why people love their startup jobs is not money rather are my contributions being valued? Do I see a path of progress and do I have autonomy over work and am I treated well?

Find out more about StartupLand on Amazon

And learn from Zestfinance

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