RVC: Today we sit down with the CEO and co-founder of breadwallet, Aaron Voisine. breadwallet is an iOS bitcoin wallet that allows users to send and receive funds in a secure and simple manner. Aaron, can you tell us a bit about how you got involved with Bitcoin?
I have been learning as much as I can about economics and monetary theory since the 2008 bank crisis. I became convinced that a digital cash system would solve many of the problems with the way banking works, and started working on one that could be backed by commodities or something like store credit. When I first heard about bitcoin, I thought it was fascinating, but I didn't think it could work since it wasn't backed by anything. When I finally came to the realization that bitcoin embodies all the desirable monetary properties with near mathematical perfection (scarcity, durability, divisibility, transportability, identifiability, fungibility), it dawned on me that bitcoin doesn't need to be backed by anything anymore than gold needs to be backed by anything. I knew then that bitcoin was in fact the most important invention in my lifetime, more important than the internet itself, and that I couldn't imagine devoting myself to anything else.
RVC: What led you to start breadwallet?
I've been doing mobile app development and entrepreneurship since the iPhone came out. iOS has a stronger security model than any other mass market computing platform, so it's ideal for managing digital cash, but there weren't any wallet apps available that took advantage of this. I felt the best way I could help contribute to bitcoin's success was to make it safe and easy for people who aren't bitcoin experts or security nerds, so I set out to make the first real bitcoin wallet that actually connects directly to the bitcoin network and also runs on a malware hardened, hardware encrypted platform.
RVC: How do you expect bitcoin to impact the world over the next 10 years?
Within the next 10 years I wouldn't be surprised to see bitcoin become the dominant currency in some country that mis-manages it's monetary policy, rescuing that country's citizens from economic ruin, and forcing other governments into more sane policies or risk losing their control over money entirely.
RVC: For bitcoin to succeed, it's going to need a lot more users. Where do you think these users will come from?
It will come from young people who will find bitcoin a lot more convenient than opening bank accounts and applying for credit cards, and from people around the world who are excluded from the current banking system. People who today use things like check cashing services and primarily deal in cash. Bitcoin combines the advantages of cash, like being permissionless and entirely under the control of the holder, with the advantages of being digital, like instant transfer over a distance, and being much easier to secure against theft.
RVC: You have chosen an unusual name for your company. Care to explain?
I wanted something short and clean sounding, one syllable, like some of the other next-gen, user experience focused fintech companies. I wanted something that started with "b" to work bitcoin into the logo, and "bread" is a slang term for money, as in "bread winner". I quite like the imagery around the concept of bread winning as a symbol for money. People work hard for their money, and real wealth can only come from people's hard work and effort to produce the things we all value. Bitcoin is a form of money that truly respects the hard work of those who earn it, since it's value can't be inflated away, and I wanted a name that reflected those values. Also the domain name was available which is always a plus.
RVC: Where does breadwallet fit into the vast yet nascent Bitcoin startup ecosystem?
breadwallet is strongly consumer focused, and also truly decentralized. I don't think anyone else is really going that route, taking the unique benefits that only a decentralized system like bitcoin can provide, and really concentrating on making them beautiful and simple to use for everyone. We don't have custody of customer funds, with the security risks and regulatory compliance burdens that entails, and we don't have any servers that could go down or get shut off that would prevent customers from accessing their funds.
RVC: Every breadwallet user I've encountered gives a lot of positive feedback about the product. Why do you think your customers are so enthusiastic?
People who are new to bitcoin appreciate the simplicity of the app, I think. More than one has mentioned that it's the first bitcoin app they would feel comfortable introducing to their mom or grandma. For people who are bitcoin nerds, they love it because it's the first real bitcoin wallet that runs on a secure device. Every other popular app or service is either susceptible to malware theft, or depends on a wallet providers servers not going down, or even involves handing over your bitcoin to someone else.
RVC: How would you characterize your business philosophy?
Our job is just to create the absolute best product we possibly can. Everything else is secondary to that. To that end we've built a fantastically talented team that I'm really proud of. I've been in the Silicon Valley startup scene since the late 90's and this is easily the most talented and passionate group of people I've had the pleasure of working with. I got to cherry pick the best people I've worked with and get them all on one team.
RVC: What is your long-term vision for breadwallet?
The reason breadwallet exists is to give the billions of people out there who use money today, a safe and easy way to participate in the new global economy, to give the unbanked access to financial services, to tear down trade barriers, free people from capital controls, and protect them from inflation and theft. We intend to bring the amazing benefits of this new monetary technology to the whole world.
New monetary technologies have only come along a few times in human history, like when metalworking was developed and people started using precious metals as money instead of strings of seashells (wampum). I believe bitcoin will have an impact on the human condition of similar proportions, and we hope to be able to play a part in bringing that about.
RVC: I've read that mobile wallets should only be used for pocket change. How much money can I safely keep on my phone at one time?
It's ironic, because many people don't realize that their smartphones are actually the most secure computing device they own, far more secure than desktop or laptop systems. It's wallets that can be accessed from the web or desktop that should really only be used for pocket change.
An iPhone uses the same techniques of app sandboxing and enforced code signatures that dedicated hardware wallets use. The phone is also hardware encrypted so your funds are strongly protected even if it's physically stolen. The US DOJ even complains publicly that the phones are too secure. Some people prefer to keep large amounts in paper wallets, but for someone who doesn't have a strong technical knowledge of bitcoin, misunderstanding how change addresses work can result in total loss, so they're not really suitable for the general public. There was recently a $1M dollar bounty offered for a remote jailbreak of iOS, and the winner ended up having to use an exploit in the chrome app, so if we assume markets are efficient, then in theory it should be safe to keep at least $1M in breadwallet (if you don't use chrome).
RVC: Before we conclude, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
I just want to thank the bitcoin community and all our wonderfully talented, intelligent, good looking users who have made breadwallet the second most popular bitcoin app in the app store after coinbase, We wouldn't have the opportunity to do this without you.