It was 6:45 AM on a cold windy Tuesday and our ferry was on the way to Helsinki.
We were pretty shocked when our buddy from New York Max called us up and told us had arranged a meeting with the LocalBitcoins guys. They have never been to a bitcoin meet up and had a rep of being aloof. So we thought Max pulled some serious strings but all he did was ask to hangout. Then an email appeared from Jeremias Kangas, the founder of Localbitcoins, warmly suggesting places we could have lunch.
Polar Bears and Snipers
We were on the ferry from Tallin, Estonia to Helsinki. The 50 mile three hour ride is a weekly ritual for many Estonians who go to Finland to work for the week and come home for the weekend. Estonia’s make twice as much working in Finland and as the saying goes an Estonian works three times higher than a Fin. Fins also come to Tallin to party and for the much less expensive alcohol. We had a decent breakfast onboard and joked about polar bears and snipers.
Sun Tzu would never advise meeting a competitor on their home turf but despite all our joking about Finnish snipers and polar bear attacks we had a really good feeling about it all. Besides Localbitcoins has been around for over three years and pioneered the space, they have nothing to fear from us or any other bitcoin startup.
We spent an hour wandering around the massive Finish harbor until we found the cruise ship our buddy Max was on. Only a metal gate stood in our way, Artur went around it and I climbed over it, NYC style. The party was joined we got into a cab and headed for the “Williamsburg” of Helsinki where the Localbitcoins offices were. Our driver gave us a history lesson about the cleverness of Finnish generals in world war two and left us with a smile.
We met at a Chinese restaurant in a trendy part of Helsinki. Jeremiah and his brother Nikolai met us with gentle smiles and knowing I was a vegetarian Jeremias suggested a near by Nepal restaurant that accepted bitcoin. It was a great call as the food was superb and the spice was a welcomed retreat from the usual northern European food. Jeremias moved quickly to the register and insisted he treat us all. A quick glance at his phones’ mycelium wallet showed a balance of three bitcoins. We were expecting a few more zeros but as we would find out these guys were as down to earth as one can imagine.
We got lucky
Jeremiah, his brother and Max who would join us later were super chill and laid back. We chatted about the challenges they encountered from scammers, hackers and growing pains. Running our own peer to peer marketplace now we finally understood just how monumental the challenge was. With everything that could go wrong and considering just how much was on the line it dawned on us just how lucky we as a community are that these guys were the ones running the leading peer to peer bitcoin trading platform. It takes a cool head and calm hand to show the world the potential of a peer to peer money marketplace and we’re lucky these guys were the ones.
Had it been anyone else they would not had the temperance to withstand the flood of over the counter drama and the onslaught of scammers would have driven them mad. The brothers came across as honest and genuine in every thing they said. While Mt. Gox imploded because of an immature and crooked CEO the entire time Localbitcoins was running rock solid thanks to the calm leadership of the Kangas brothers. Let’s be thankful for that.
No refugee for the wicked
As we feasted on Chicken tikka Masala and buttery garlic naan bread Artur, CTO of Paxful brought up how the vendors who had accounts on both our platforms were working together to stop scammers. A scammers with accounts on Paxful and Localbitcoins had decided to pull a scam on both our platforms at the same time. Word got out immediately on our Slack chat and the vendors formed a phalanx against the scammer on both sites. The scammer tried to find refuse on Localbitcoins and the sellers all refused to deal with him until he compensated their friend and they did the same on Paxful. With the doors closed to him on the two major peer to peer exchanges he had no choice and compensated his victim. The wild west just got a little more orderly.
Bitcoin is already bigger than banks
Our buddy Max brought up a use case where his friend had to pay over three hundred dollars in wire fees and wait over 2 months to wire money to a bank in eastern Europe. Apparently banks are not the united front we think they are. They all have fractured and tedious relationships with their fair share of political drama and personal beef. Max of Localbitcoins (not related to the other Max) further cemented the point of just how fragmented and disunited banks really were. They protect themselves and their clients not through any enlightened unit fraud measures but through incompetence, sloth and the reversibility of the fiat SWIFT system. Bitcoin being instant and irreversible afforded us no such comforts to protect traders escrow alone was not enough, we have to work together.