I was recently able to interview Elizabeth Rossiello, CEO and founder of BitPesa, a digital currency exchange based in Nairobi, Kenya. BitPesa recently raised $1.1 million USD in funding from noted Bitcoin entrepreneurs and investors such as Pantera Capital. Here at Bitcorati, we are dedicated to bringing quality and poignant interviews to the public. Africa is a continent without a proper financial infrastructure: Bitcoin can help and people like Elizabeth are expediting that natural process.
Bitcorati Interview with Elizabeth Rossiello from BitPesa
Young and growing. When we held the first Bitcoin Meetup in early 2014, there were 3 attendees….now we can get up to 50 people or more at a Bitcoin event or party. There are a few Bitcoin related businesses and now that we are selling Bitcoin — lots of active buyers and sellers!
Are you excited for the first Bitcoin conference in Africa?
Yes! Finally less travel to get to a conference Cape Town is an awesome city and the digital currency community there is several times larger than Nairobi – so always good to check it out.
Obviously, your company is shining a beacon of Bitcoin light across Africa, what other African companies or initiatives do you suggest African Bitcoiners to check out?
There are really not many companies with much traction at all in sub-Saharan Africa, sadly. There has been some press about a few fledging companies and I wish I could say that there are more out there actually with full-time teams, funding, and products in the pipeline — but it is a very young market and most of these are just ideas at this point. I would say the only other 2 active companies in the space with any real customers at all are ICE3x and BitX, both which started the same time as us and are doing awesome in their respective markets/product spaces.
Do you feel that the regulatory climate for Bitcoin will change in the coming year? How?
Regulators are continuously learning and growing in their knowledge of digital currencies and the ways they can add efficiency and security to the financial sector. There are new guidelines emerging every quarter, especially in the US and Europe. Italy just came out with a pretty unique statement on how they will approach digital currency exchanges incorporated there. Quite exciting!
What established company in Africa would BitPesa like to work with for maximum exposure/reach?
All of them!
Do you think that those living outside of the “first world” have different motivations for pursuing the furtherance of digital currencies and decentralization?
Of course! I struggle every day using our company credit card for international purchases like airline tickets and computer equipment. Whenever possible I use Bitcoin to pay for these things — and when I can’t, I am often prevented from making a purchase. For e-commerce alone there are huge advantages to introducing digital currencies that don’t exist in places like the US and Europe.
How has digital currency and technology personally helped your life?
It has allowed me to grow my start-up efficiently and at a rapid pace by offering me cutting-edge, open-source code to base my operations on. It has also introduced me to one of the most generous and cooperative communities out there – one in which the leaders consistently make time for start-ups like BitPesa.
What is your favorite quote?
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
When and how did you first hear about Bitcoin?
I had read about it in the press a few times, but it was actually our first Angel investor that sat me down and explained in detail how digital currencies could revolutionise East Africa. He was also the one to get me to download a wallet and sent me my first Bitcoin — at under $50.
When did you first decide to dedicate time to digital currencies; how much of your time do you dedicate?
A few days after first meeting with our first Angel investor, I decided to found BitPesa and dedicate my life to growing it. That was in October 2013.
What is one piece of advice that you have for those around the world that might be aspiring to do what you do?
Find a few hard-working teammates who really understand how to build a business in the region you are looking to start operations. That is more important than knowledge of digital currency. Then combine their local ability to execute with a super simple product and try to juggle all the things you need to do to get it done quickly!
How has the world been changed by this new technology?
I don’t think we have even begun to see the extent that decentralised ledger technology will change the world. To date, it is already so impressive that huge payment companies and remittance operators have begun to consider changing their operational models to adapt and integrate a totally new way of moving money and confirming transactions.
How do you think the world will be changed by this new technology?
I think payments will no longer be such a pain point in people’s lives, in business’ bottom lines. Settling transactions will be super fast, cheap and easy – making room for our collective brainpower to do more important things!
Image from BitPesa.