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Uphold VP of Product Byrne Reese Explains the “Internet of Money”

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Bitreserve, this last Wednesday announced it was rebranding to Uphold. Uphold was the selected name the company picked up for the rebranding as to launch a set of new functionalities, new products and services, while strategically positioning themselves to satisfy the industry growing demands.


Bitreserve opened its doors last year; the company offered online Payments services for both consumers and businesses and now is aiming for a new shift to help Uphold satisfy the Industry needs.

Bitreserve opened with a simple belief that if money could be changed, the world could be changed as well. The company wanted to transform the world of finance.

Anthony Watson the Company’s CEO and President published a Blog post where he explained the new strategy. By connecting the legacy and fragmented financial ecosystem with the future of money and finance which he refers as “The Internet of Money”, Uphold wants to be the world’s leading cloud-based money platform.

To know more about the company and this sudden shift NewsBTC had a conversation with Uphold’s Vice President of Product, Byrne Reese.

Byrne Reese1

NewsBTCWe would like to hear a little bit about the history of the company and the rebranding. What can you tell us about it?

The name Bitreserve originally was a conjunction of two terms. It was a name to reflect the kind of reality of our product for being a digital reserve. The idea of taking Fiat currency, turning Fiat currency into digital currency and storing them in the cloud. And we took the terms that made the most sense and then we put them together and we came up with the name Bitreserve. What we found in practice, and this was really just by happen stamps, because of, and you know this is the very beginning of our journey, is that with the rise of bitcoin the term bit became inseparable from the association of Bitcoin from a pragmatic standpoint, from a regulatory context and from a partnerships context with trying to build bridges with the banking systems and kind of traditional Fiat world, that became more of a hindrance than a benefit. Truth be told, that can be said with consumers as well and one of our goals has always been to help drive adoption of digital currency throughout the world and bitcoin had a number of challenges associated with it. Also core to our values was this idea that people should have the freedom to hold value in a form that they feel more comfortable with. And that meant having an attitude and a disposition towards currency that was much more inclusive. It was not about creating a fundamentalist product where we were trying to be, quote, a bitcoin company, living a bitcoin lifestyle.

This was about embracing all forms of value that our customers wanted to hold and give customers the ability to hold that value while still being able to spend it as freely and as openly as they would with bitcoin. That’s where it started.

As we started to cement the relationships with Banks and with the traditional Fiat system we realized that it was time to kind of signal to the world as well that we were, I won’t say signaling beyond bitcoin, but that we were embracing a much larger world of money. And we also wanted a term that I think reflected more of our values rather than strictly having a more kind of clinical name that described our product we wanted to touch upon a name and have a brand for ourselves that reflected our values around transparency and about uplifting the financial ecosystem and all of the people who are participating within it. And that is where this idea of Uphold came from. Both in the idea of upholding a set of values that are important to us but also upholding and uplifting the entire financial ecosystem into a bigger and brighter future. And it gets very interesting that, with this shift, and you saw this with Circle as well, where there is this narrative people want to tell about companies turning their backs on bitcoin. And it’s very interesting to hear this release, because actually we’re not turning our backs on bitcoin at all, in fact we support bitcoin as much today, as we did yesterday and the day before that. And if anything, we are expanding the future of bitcoin by making bitcoin more accessible and digital currency more accessible to the rest of the world by connecting to the systems that people use practically on a day to day basis.

NewsBTC – As you know, there are a lot of members of the community, mainly the Bitcoin Purists, opposing this kind of business model. What’s your comment on that?

ByrneWell, I think there are times… at the end of the day I think that one of the things that I like working here and working with our colleagues here at Uphold is that we are all pragmatists. Our goal and focus is to bring greater utility to all forms of money on this planet. Not just one of them. We’re not here to incite a revolution of a system. We are here to serve the common man. I mean we’re here to serve everybody. And I think to do that we cannot paint ourselves in the corner and take a fundamentalist approach to money. We have to have a much more pragmatic, centrist, inclusive view of value, one that acknowledges and embraces some of the challenges that are inherent in, I think the fundamentalist view of trying to force people to change the currency they use every day. I don’t think that’s a winning solution. I think fundamentalists in the bitcoin community dramatically underestimate the cognitive friction associated with adopting a new currency.

NewsBTCYour Company is trying to comply with all the regulations. Are you trying to do this as a part of your inclusive view of Bitcoin in the financial system?

ByrnePartially; I would expand on that and say this like where I see a lot of colleagues in the cryptocurrency space focus when you use the term compliance or the term KYC, it has a decidedly negative connotation. It represents a lack of freedom, it represents hindrances to innovation. When I think about those terms I think about the true intent of what those regulations are about and in the end of the day it’s about protecting consumers. Those rules and regulations are in place to help make sure consumers and the services that they use are keeping their best interest in mind. When you take that perspective is hard to argue and take an antagonistic view towards regulators and this kind of compliance frameworks because we are actually on the same team. If money is not safe it is not useful and if it is not useful, and if bitcoin is not useful it will never succeed. From a product design standpoint I like to think of compliance has a set of constraints that are placed upon us that we have to work around, not to work around as a means of circumvention but as a set of constraints to drive innovative and creative solutions into our product and into this industry. In much the same way you can think of when Twitter placed a seemingly arbitrary limit on the number of characters you could use to express yourself and some people felt that was limiting. Others prove to find a new medium of expression where the fact you were forced to express yourself with such a limiting number of characters created a new wave of innovation, a new wave of entertainment a whole new media environment. When I look at compliance and the world of compliance I think of those constraints much the same way. These are rules I have to work around, but those rules provide a framework for me to build and deliver really creative innovative solutions and solve a fundamental problem that we all have an interest in. We are just keeping consumers safe.

NewsBTC – I would like you to comment about the services and products offered by the company. Besides having the same products and services you were offering at Bitreserve what new products will you be introducing along with the rebranding?

ByrneThe biggest fundamental change is the fact that we are now able to interface directly with banking systems around the world. In the course of the next three months we are opening new markets. Markets in America, markets in Europe, United Kingdom, in India and in China. You know, many people say that Bitcoin is a global currency, but bitcoin has a fundamental challenge associated with it, which is the last mile problem. A lot of the use cases ultimately require people to convert bitcoin into a currency that is broadly accepted in the local environments in which people transact. And so, you can send someone bitcoin. But they can’t really transact with bitcoin on the street. The interface with the banking system means not only you are unlocking markets here at home where people are trying to send money overseas but you are also enabling that money to enter economies overseas and actually gets used and spent rather than being hoarded and held by just a few people.

NewsBTC – With this shift you say you are trying to build innovative services in order to meet up with the industry demands. Care to comment on that?

ByrneI think when we talk about unlocking the next wave of innovation within the financial services industry that is foundational to the fulfillment of that promise. This narrative in the Silicon Valley, of someone dropping out of college and moving in with his parents and starting the next Apple computer the next Dell or the next Facebook… In the world of financial services that is a myth. That story of innovation cannot happen because the capital requirements to build a financial services company costs millions and millions of dollars just in lawyer fees alone to acquire the licenses, to write the contracts, to negotiate these deals. We make that story the possibility of someone on a shoe string budget being able to disrupt a large player on the financial services industry we make that real again because we eliminate all of the cost associated with bringing these products to the market.

I think that the approach Bitreserve is taking in this shift towards this new feature signaled by this change in our name. We are looking to businesses and we are looking to development partners to help drive adoption of digital currency. Personally I don’t think that building a really sexy or a really usable and user friendly digital wallet is what is holding people back from adopting digital currency. Bitreserve has a wonderful digital wallet for consumers; Coinbase has a very nice user interface for digital value so does Circle many companies do. But those products are not what’s driving the adoption of digital currency. Someone, somewhere along the way has to come in and actually start solving real fundamental problems people have.  

NewsBTC – What are the future prospects for the company? Do you envision partnerships with industry giants like PayPal?

ByrneYes absolutely. We in many respects are a neutral party. To take a technical view of ourselves we are kind of an enterprise service Post for money. We interface with all of these systems, we resolve and intermediate all the differences between all of these financial systems so that our partners don’t have to. What we expose to our partner and our developers who are willing to interface with these systems is a super simple API that simply expresses a few simple verbs:  I want to send money, I want to transfer money, I want to withdraw and deposit money. They don’t have to worry about how those systems work and how compatible they are. I don’t have to worry about whether one person is even permitted to transfer value to another person on the network because of some obscure compliance regulation. None of those are problems that developers and partners on our platform have to worry about.

If you really want to bring and make bitcoin accessible in the EUA you can’t innovate around compliance you have to at some point confront it and comply. To think that you can innovate around compliance rules and regulations is really to lead your company, you investors, and your customers down a path of ruin. If you want to bring these products to market in these highly regulated industries you need to comply you can’t innovate around that.

NewsBTC – Can you comment on the Company’s slogan, the “Internet of money”?

ByrneI think that is going to be a greater attraction in delivering solutions and products to businesses than it will be to end consumers, because the economics of running a business are much more aligned with adopting digital currencies than they are for consumers. But I think what’s more important is these businesses that operate in these specific geographies and environments have domain expertise and knowledge. They have an unfair advantage in understanding how money is used within their immediate surrounding and within their locality and culture. Take for example LibertyX, which is a partner on our platform who operates in the EUA to solve a very important problem for the migrant community which is onboarding cash at a convenience store converting it in bitcoin and then depositing it to be stored and sent out of Uphold.  What’s interesting is that their technology is not what makes them innovative. It’s their customer development strategy that makes them innovative, because the insight that they have that is making them successful is understanding that when a migrant moves into a new community he is unfamiliar with, he turns to his religious community and religious leaders as a source and referral source for understanding who they should do business with and how they can solve some practical problems as how do I send money back home. LibertyX had that insight and they started building these interesting customer development and customer acquisition channels and working directly with churches. That’s an insight that we would not be able to build on our own, but it’s through our network that we are able to tap into that innovative insight to allow us to access a much larger market and to bring greater liquidity into the bitcoin ecosystem and the digital money ecosystem as well and ultimately solve some fundamental problems that people have. 

NewsBTC – What is your view on the current state of digital currencies?

ByrneI’m very bullish on the state of digital currency. I’m bullish on bitcoin in the long term. I think these technologies are going to be foundational to how a lot of systems operate in the future in which blockchain technologies can be applied to solve larger problems outside the financial services industry and that I think, you hear that sentiment expressed by many people in this industry that the blockchain is here to stay.

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