Meet the man behind GetBittr, the bitcoin-saving platform [interview]

Standing on The Lightning Conference stage, Ruben Waterman explains how his unique product, GetBittr, integrated the Lightning Network protocol.

People in the Bitcoin universe are attending the conference because Lightning Network is the future of bitcoin transactions. Once you have bitcoin inside the Lightning Network, you can make bitcoin payments instantly, without having to wait for confirmations. New use cases of bitcoin arise, such as instant conversion from fiat currencies into bitcoin.

As it happens, Ruben has just come from Romania, where he paid us a work visit. Its result? GetBittr will soon be able to manage fiat-to-bitcoin transactions instantly, thanks to the Lightning integration Cosmin (our CTO) implemented on the GetBittr platform.

All right, quite a lot of crypto jargon so far.

The idea is: Ruben and Cosmin are two people who are passionate about bitcoin. They joined forces and are ahead of the game in the bitcoin application world, with a solution aiming to make bitcoin transactions easier and more accessible to more people.

A travel enthusiast, Ruben is always hopping from one bitcoin conference to the other and this time we found him attending Transylvania Crypto Conference. So we booked some time with him to learn what's it like to be a solopreneur building a bitcoin product. Here's what we learned.

How did you come up with the business idea for GetBittr?

"Before I started GetBittr, I was doing my online Masters at University of Nicosia, in Cyprus, and in one of those courses you were asked as school assignment to put a spin on a financial industry company that already exists in the traditional financial market but that doesn't exist in the bitcoin space.

I took Acorns as a starting point. Acorns is a US company that allows you to send a weekly sum and they'll invest it for you in the stock market, in government bonds, in real estate etc. And I was like ⟪Why isn't there anything similar to Acorns but for bitcoin?⟫

So that's how it was, I wrote one page about this thing and the professor was like ⟪This is amazing, why don't you actually do it?⟫ and I was like ⟪It's complicated, fiat to crypto has been a target for regulators etc.⟫ But in the end I thought well, that's actually not that complicated, maybe I should just...try it."

Can you tell us more about GetBittr - how it works and what solution it brings?

"I had an initial model for GetBittr, which I kept refining until my mother could use it [laughs].

The result was a platform where you can register with an email address, a phone number, and a bitcoin address. That is an easy, 4-step flow. Anyone should be able to do this.

Then based on this banking information, we give the customer their banking details, IBAN number and a deposit code specific to that customer. So then the customers go to their online banking environment, they input the details - how much they want to save (something like €25, €30 per week). Once the first payment arrives we do a background check and process the first transaction.

Once we receive a deposit from our customer in our bank account, we will buy the bitcoin at market price, and then send the bitcoin to the customer directly. So we never keep people's money.

Note: This is a sneak peak of the savings calculator:

How about the Business model?

GetBittr's business model is based on a transaction fee. So I was looking into how much I could charge for this. The big exchanges have transaction fees of about 0.25%. But if you're looking at services that offer you bitcoin instantly, you are more likely to pay anywhere between 1.5 to 5 percent.

So I was like What would I be willing to pay for a service that helps me avoid going to an exchange every week and putting an order manually and wait for my bitcoin to arrive? This is how I got to the 1.5% transaction fee.

So which would you say is GetBittr's value proposition?

The GetBittr value propositions is in the 10 minutes that people save by using the platform, in the easy onboarding and in the quick processing of the transaction.

Services like Coinbase keep people's bitcoin for a while - and I don't really like this because the whole point of bitcoin is that you keep your own money and you don't need to entrust anyone else with it.

Any competitors?

I just noticed the other day that somebody copied the GetBittr model. It would be weird if something like this didn't happen - I mean the space is pretty big. And the Bittr model is such a simple one, it would be weird if nobody took it on.

How much did the research/idea validation phase last?

To be honest I didn't do much research other than 'does this exist'? I didn't really talk to focus groups. I just went for it. I knew my concept was not that risky.

The sales/marketing side: by attending bitcoin/crypto conferences, talking to people in the industry, doing word-of-mouth. Plus, being present in bitcoin podcasts - this is a really effective channel for acquiring new users. Main communication channel is Twitter because "almost all bitcoin activity happens on Twitter".

How do you measure GetBittr's growth?

I don't really pay attention to follower/user counts. I don't really track the number, I'm just focusing on the volume. When I started, I was at about €10,000 on the platform, which means really nothing since my fee is 1.5% (It means I got like €150 revenue).

But then as I gained a bit more popularity on Twitter and did more Bitcoin podcasts, user numbers started to go up, and in March we were at just below €100,000 per month and right now it's right above €200,000.

Plans for the future?

At first, I was thinking about developing the product further. One idea I had was to issue debit cards that allow you ro invest your pocket change directly into bitcoin. So let's say you pay €9.6 with that card. This amount is rounded up to €10, while the rest of €0.4 is exchanged and invested directly into bitcoin. Problem with this is that, in order to be profitable, Bittr would need millions of users.

So right now I'm focusing on scaling up in different markets. Depends on where I find solid partners to pilot this model with.

Easiest market right now is the US but you need a money transmitter license in every state to carry cryptocurrency transactions. So if you can partner up with someone who already has that infrastructure, it's worth making a move.

A market like Asia or Africa is more complicated because not everyone there has bank accounts and Bittr is based on this premise. You need to have a solid insider who knows the ins-and-outs of that particular market.

Other product ideas in mind?

As an extension to Bittr, I'm thinking about developing an integration with Lightning Network. Maybe even an app with immediate transfer and top-notch user experience.

Did you always have this entrepreneurial drive? Do you come from an entrepreneurs' family?

No, not really. But starting from 16, I did some IT work for a jewellery store. I started by suggesting the owners how to improve their website, and now they're a very IT-oriented company. At that place, I was able to see what it's like to run your own company, and I was also given a lot of freedom to do things my own way. I think that's where it started for me.

Yeah, I knew early on that I would never work for somebody else. I wanna work, but I wanna have my own thing. Also, during my studies, I always had B2B ideas but right now I ended up doing a B2C business.

How did you get to partner up with Around25?

While at startup incubator in Holland, I met a startup that was working with Around25.

Having already written an entire project proposal for another software company in Holland, I reached out to Paul (Around25 CEO) and then Cosmin followed up with a bunch of questions.

After a couple of calls, I was like ⟪Yeah, they seem like nice guys, they're not trying to rip me off.⟫ Then a few weeks later I came to Cluj, met Paul and Cosmin - which was really helpful for the relationship going further. Up until that point, it had been more of a transactional communication, whereas now it's more relational. If I go ⟪Hey, Cosmin, here's this issue, and this is how I was thinking to solve it⟫ , he may say something like ⟪No, that's a bad idea, we should do it this other way⟫.

I did know I wanted to work with a company, not a developer. I needed to have the security that the codebase can be handed to someone else in case this is needed.

What makes this partnership work?

Mostly the way me and Cosmin are able to communicate. He tells me when my idea is bad and this is important to me because I don't have anyone else to talk bitcoin technicalities with.

Who are the people using GetBittr?

GetBittr user base is pretty resilient, it doesn't depend on bitcoin fluctuations because people set up their weekly transfers, and they will buy anyway regardless of the bitcoin price itself.

People know that sometimes they're buying high, sometimes they're buying low, but overall they will do a better job doing this than picking one moment and buying more at that single point.

My ethic is also that I should ask as little as possible from my customers - I think this belongs to the bitcoin ethos (the less data you have on people, the better). But as far as I noticed, Bittr users seem a bit more versed, they've been in the space for a while so they can really appreciate GetBittr's ease of use and the dollar-cost averaging built-in strategy.

So your user base is rather loyal - they know the market, they know what to expect and what they signed up for.

Yeah, initially I thought I could attract new users (i.e. bitcoin newcomers), but that - turns out - is quite difficult. It's easier to reach to people who are already using bitcoin.

Right now, many end up using Coinbase, because it's the most convenient to new users, but it's not really the right way of doing bitcoin. They hold the bicoin for you, they charge high fees, they flood you with other cryptocurrencies. And that's not really a nice, welcoming place to the bitcoin ecosystem. While what I built with Bittr actually is.

What does your day look like?

Honestly I don't know but I'm always busy [laughs].

Usually, I get up to check new transactions in the morning, as banks are processing them. Then answer customer support tickets. And then I start figuring out new stuff for Bittr.

For instance, me and Cosmin (Around25 CTO) recently developed a new feature, but the research of it took several weeks on my part and several others for Cosmin to implement. This feature grants more privacy to the user's deposits, but in order to implement it, I had to do research on what is called extended public keys.

Since your business development approach is mainly word-of-mouth at conferences, which ones do you like to attend?

I attend small bitcoin conferences, because you get to network with more people who are actually building stuff, plus you can listen to developers who work on the bitcoin core protocol. This is something I really value because these people are really passionate about bitcoin so much so that they're willing to volunteer their time.

I definitely recommend conferences like Baltic Honeybadger, Building on Bitcoin, Transylvania Crypto Conference or Bitcoin 2020.

How would you explain the difference between bitcoin and blockchain?

If you take one bitcoin, that bitcoin only lives on the blockchain, it does not exist anywhere else in the physical world. So if you transfer it from A to B, it only happens on the bitcoin blockchain.

When you look at a lot of (supposedly) blockchain applications, they'll try to do something out of the physical world on the blockchain. This, inherently, doesn't make sense because somebody needs to put that information on the blockchain, and that's your weakest link. So what you would actually be looking at if you want to share data across multiple parties or have a cross-supply chain (which is what most of these blockchain projects are about) is a shared database. You don't need a blockchain for that.

I'm standing right in front of Ruben and can't help but notice the GetBittr hoodie he's wearing and the only 2 stickers on his laptop - which are also GetBittr branded.

This is a founder who doesn't need flashy words or grandiose gestures - it's obvious he lives and breathes bitcoin and this is where the value of his product comes from. A founder who acts first and learns always. Gives his all, asks for 100%, yet is humble.

You won't find Ruben at business conferences or big events. Instead, you'll find him up there in the trenches, with the people who put the hard work in, with the developers and the true bitcoin innovators.

He often shares his insights - just like he did in Cluj this time around or in industry podcasts like this below. If you want to learn even more about GetBittr and Ruben, check this:

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by Ioana Budai

  • Cluj-Napoca

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