In May of this year, start-up Coinme released their first Robocoin kiosk at the Spitfire sports bar in downtown Seattle. On October 1st of this year, they added to their fleet with a new machine located on the University of Washington campus. The release event at UW’s “Startup Hall” also coincided with a Bitcoin meet-up for interested people in the local community to come network and listen to speakers talk about their personal projects. There were about 40 people in attendance.
I interviewed the guys behind Coinme when they opened their first ATM and was excited to catch up and see how the business has been doing. According to general manager Nick Hughes, their first machine is seeing use on a “daily” basis and has proven that, in Seattle, “there’s definitely interest here, there’s curiosity.” He added “It’s a niche product in a niche industry…it’s not like a normal ATM that has hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars of usage. We’re seeing usage and growth but nothing out of this world.”
While he was unwilling to give hard figures on daily transaction amounts, Nick said “we sometimes see upwards of double digits of transactions a day. On the low end you’ll see a handful.” When I asked Nick if he had noticed traffic fluctuations based on news or overall price movements “It seems to be more correlated with the price…when you saw the price of bitcoin drop you saw a slightly different usage based on the price. Now, can I say when the price drops people buy or sell? No. Some people want to hop on it when it drops and some people want to sell.”
When I asked Nick what people are most curious about when it comes to the machine he said “The two questions we get is what is it and how do you use it, what do you do with it…Sometimes depending on the person I’m talking to it’s slightly difficult to explain to them. I think the biggest problem with bitcoin to this day still is the clear use case. We’ll get there but we’re not there.”
He added “the biggest hurdle of these machines is still user experience. Robocoin built the software we’re running, it is not very user friendly to a new person. They don’t know what buy or sell bitcoin is. They think of withdraw or deposit. So they are coming out with new software that will help that…We’ve had a few people that don’t fully get what’s going on and they think the machine, like, stole their money. And we’re talking like four hundred, a thousand dollars. They wanted to buy bitcoin but were confused what happened. I had to explain to them what you did was basically you put money in this machine and purchased bitcoin and it’s now on the receipt with a QR code. After a conversation I turned this guy from mad into a huge supporter…but one out of three need a little bit of help. Maybe one out of four.”
Nick hopes that having a kiosk at one of Western Washington’s educational hubs will help people get past this learning curve. Commenting on why they chose this location for their new release he said “we’re excited about this move because it’s putting it in an environment that’s tech-savvy. There’s a student population, there’s an international student population here, and also it gets conversation and research happening on campus, where I think it needs to be happening.” With this installation, Coinme’s kiosk becomes the first ATM operating on a United States university campus that allows for both buying and selling of bitcoin.
Another thing that sets Coinme apart is that they have gone through all the procedures necessary to become a licensed money transmitter, operating closely with the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI). At the time of the kiosk release, Nick said they had “just finished a 3 month overview with them (the DFI) monitoring the machine” and that they had passed with the DFI being “excited” about the company. Coinme considers itself “a model business and a model company as other companies in Washington State associated with Bitcoin begin operation.”
According to Nick they have a third machine and are looking for a location. They would like it to be on the Eastside because there are already two in Seattle-main, but they have “a few places in mind.“ He also added that Robocoin users should soon be seeing a useful update to their machines. While deposits and withdrawals currently take around 20-30 minutes, Nick said “they will be rolling out a new software update that should shorten that big time. You’ll be able to withdraw in, like, 30 seconds.”