Vladislav Dramaliev, co-founder of the Bulgarian Bitcoin Association and founder of the first Bulgarian cryptocurrency exchange bitcoini.com and founder of CoinFixer.com, has been the face of bitcoin in Bulgarian media for a while now. Recently media attention focused on his latest project started in October 2015, namely BitHope, a platform for collecting cryptocurrency donations. CoinFox approached Mr Dramaliev and asked him to share his thoughts on the future of bitcoin and blockchain in Bulgaria and beyond.
CoinFox: You were one of the first bitcoin enthusiasts in Bulgaria. What provoked your interest in the cryptocurrency and how did you start?
Vladislav Dramaliev: I first learned about the concept of cryptocurrencies from a friend of mine. He was very excited about the technology and provided me with a general idea about how bitcoin works and what it is used for. To be honest at first I didn’t quite understand what he means. The concept of cryptocurrency sounded strange and unrealistic to me. I thought Bitcoin is a geeky idea that had no place in the real world. Actually, I didn’t pay much attention to it. However, when during the Cyprus banking crisis bitcoin received coverage in popular media, I decided to disregard my initial impression and research it more extensively.
I fell in love with its ambition of creating a new form of money, secured by cryptography, born and naturally residing in the Internet, outside the reach of governments and human imperfections. I am a great fan of sci-fi books and movies and I perceived Bitcoin as a harbinger of the future world. I loved its interdisciplinary nature. I felt that the technology has potential to change many important aspects of our lives – the way we look at money, being one of the most important ones.
I didn’t quite get the potential of the blockchain at first. I was primarily focused on the currency aspect.
Vladislav Dramaliev: As I mentioned, I was primarily concentrated on bitcoin. I spent quite a long time understanding how it functions. I wanted to be sure, at least to the degree that a non-programmer can be, that the technology really can fulfill its promise. The best way to learn something is to immerse yourself in it. So I decided to contact my friend and proposed to him to start bitcoini.com. He had already purchased the domain and had built a basic website, but did not have any capital to run it, nor was he good at human interaction. I had some means provided to me by my family and decided to direct them towards the project. Bitcoini.com became the first website in Bulgaria that offered exchange of bitcoins for national currency and vice versa. I made sure that it provided relevant information regarding bitcoin currencies, as well.
At first, we were not even sure if there will be any demand for this service. However, as time passed by it became quite popular. Customer relations was one of the aspects of the project that I was in charge of, so I was able to meet with many people using bitcoin. They were primarily miners, but there were many speculators as well. Interestingly, the people that I did not meet were the ones that opened my eyes for the dark side of bitcoin. After a couple instances of extortions that were facilitated by bitcoini.com, I became of the opinion that operating the website in the silly way we were so far was wrong, inane and unsustainable.
That is why I decided to turn to Launchub, a Bulgarian seed fund. I was looking for competences and support that can help bitcoini.com acquire sustainability. My colleague was never fully for that move. I believe that he was happy with how bitcoini.com functioned and was not willing to change it. This is where a serious rift in our vision for the future of the project appeared and we went our separate ways.
I was quite involved with bitcoin by then, so I decided to initiate a brokerage service on my own and according to my vision. That is how CoinFixer.com appeared.
CoinFixer.com added the possibility to exchange two additional types of cryptocurrency – Litecoin and Dash (Darkcoin at the time). I was in charge of website content in bitcoini and I believed that my new project should also provide information regarding important developments, guides on using cryptocurrencies and general information about what they are and why they are so important. The idea behind CoinFixer.com was, and still is, to be a place where people discover cryptocurrencies, can learn how to use them and be certain that they are dealing with trustworthy individuals, willing to guide them in the mysterious, scary and even dangerous (according to many) world of math-based currencies.
However, I felt that there is much more to bitcoin than mining, exchange and speculation. Through the years I came to believe that people must see some real-world application of the technology that clearly represents its uniqueness and great potential, not necessarily with a mercantile agenda. The media was primarily focused on failed exchanges, Ponzi schemes and large bitcoin thefts. People were exposed to the darker side of the technology and were missing the point. Bitcoin, much like other breakthrough technologies created by human ingenuity, is neutral. It is a tool which usage depends on the hand that wields it.
So I decided to show people Bitcoin’s most positive side. I noticed that the ability to microtransact is a quite unique characteristic of bitcoin. Moreover, there was a whole culture of “tipping with bitcoin” that was slowly developing and I identified much potential. Bitcoin allows people to get even closer together and at the same time – with no strings attached. Instead of liking a comment, I could send half a dollar. That is an amazing way to redistribute wealth and show support. These deliberations led me to the idea that bitcoin could be an incredible tool for charity. Transparency and pseudoanonymity are also huge advantages in this regards. I thought of a Bitcoin address as “virtual donation box” – an actual equivalent of a physical donation box, but for the whole world, its effectiveness being unhindered by a physical location. With bitcoin people can express empathy in a way that was simply impossible before 2009.
On the other hand, I knew that there are many small and medium-size NGOs that are struggling to generate funds and would be happy to have access to an international funding channel. That was a great opportunity to teach them about Bitcoin/bitcoin, and to help them and their charitable causes.
Transparency, much like in the case of Bitcoin, is of utmost importance for BitHope.org. By definition each Bitcoin address, associated with a specific campaign, is fully transparent. But this is not enough. All information that is generated in the course of exchanging and spending the funds must be transparent as well. In BitHope.org we require NGOs to provide photos, documents which are verifiable by third parties and any other relevant information that could prove that the money were spent in accordance to the announced objective. We do extensive follow up and provide our donors with all the information that we have received.
What I hope to achieve through BitHope is: raise awareness about the “light side” of Bitcoin/bitcoin and prove that the technology can be used for good by generating finance for charity campaigns. There is also a more selfish motive - helping people and the environment through bitcoin brings me much joy and makes me happy. The feeling that the world became a slightly better place due to my efforts is the best currency, the only one superior to bitcoin.
CoinFox: How do you see the future of bitcoin adoption in Bulgaria and are you currently interested in other cryptocurrencies?
Vladislav Dramaliev: I believe bitcoin adoption in Bulgaria, much like in any other place, is progressing. I am happy to say that according to my observations the percentage of people that are aware of cryptocurrencies is higher than in many other countries. I believe this is due to a broadband connectivity with almost 100% coverage, relaxed copyright laws and lower living standards, when compared with other countries in the EU. There are many people here that perceive cryptocurrencies as possible sources of financial support. While in the past I knew of some bitcoin mining operations, today I believe most people mine alternative cryptocurrencies. I know that any cryptocoin that can be efficiently mined with a GPU and has a “good story” behind it, is a target of the local miners.
Personally, the cryptocurrencies that I am interested in are Dash and Etherum. I have some Litecoins, Primecoins, Bitshares and Namecoins.
CoinFox: Mike Hearn recently qualified bitcoin as a failed experiment. What is your take on his position?
Vladislav Dramaliev: My personal position is that he is not right. I respect him for all the work that he has put into the improvement of the Bitcoin code, for his work on the Lighthouse project and for his efforts on BitcoinXT. However, I think that his reaction to the, I am sure, many difficulties surrounding the promotion of the 8 MB block limit was a bit immature and will cost him much credibility. He had a lot of influence in the Bitcoin community and I think he gave that up too easily (and he might be sorry for that up the road).
I agree that most of the points that he puts forward as arguments in favor of his “Bitcoin is dead” idea are relevant, but cannot in any way be considered as fatal flaws or insurmountable obstacles. I consider them as a natural part of the growing process of any revolutionary technology. Moreover, there is a whole Bitcoin ecosystem, composed of individuals betting on Bitcoin’s success that are inclined to do what is necessary in order to see it prosper. There are financial, but also ideological stakes on the table and I am sure that they are significant enough to stimulate a healthy scaling process. Moreover, the growth in the number of transactions is actually a great thing and proves that Bitcoin is actually thriving. I believe Mike’s comments will unite the community, much like any other “crisis” before, and will prove to be the catalyst for many improvements. Bitcoin and the whole community will come out stronger in the end.
CoinFox: And finally, while bitcoin keeps being criticised and regarded with suspicion by governmental and financial institutions, many of them, especially banks, are increasingly interested in the blockchain technology. What, in your opinion, are the motives behind this discourse of dissociation of bitcoin and blockchain and what do you think its future implications would be?
Vladislav Dramaliev: I think that there is a lot of hypocricity in contemporary politics and Bitcoin has received its fair share of it. Financial institutions are in a kind of love/hate relationship with it, noticing its potential, but at the same time too entrenched in their legacy views regarding how the system has worked and should work. They believing that they can separate the Blockchain from bitcoin and keeping the control in their hands. They are used to be in charge and still believe that they can modify the technology to keep the status quo. They might be able score some points in the short-term. Permissioned blockchains are an interesting concept and I will be curious to see their real-world implementations (that will be beneficial to Bitcoin). However, I do not believe that these solutions will be able to compete with the Bitcoin blockchain in the long term. It will be always cheaper, easier and more secure to use the Original Blockchain. Moreover, I am positive that in time it will be developed even further and it will be able to accommodate many other types of assets.
Governments, on the other hand, are applying a more cautious approach. According to my observations, at first they were a bit scared by the possibility of money laundering and criminal applications of the technology, but are now applying a “we can regulate that” approach and feel more reassured. I am happy about the stance of the EU Court of Justice regarding bitcoin and the recent Europol report regarding possible bitcoin-ISIS links should be comforting to many. I am also quite glad that more technologically developed governments are looking into the possibility of implementing the blockchain tech in their administrations. Much like financial institutions, they are thinking of a permissioned blockchains, but as I mentioned before these “flirts” with the technology will help the Original by educating more and more people on how to use this math-based breakthrough.
I expect numerous public and private blockchains to appear in the next 5-10 years, improving the way we close deals, vote, communicate, exchange value, property and any asset that can be mathematically represented. The era of the Blockchain is upon us. Buy some bitcoins.