If you have been following us closely, then you might have come across my previous article where I have mentioned the startups spearheading the Indian Bitcoin revolution. One among them is Unocoin. Unocoin, known among the Indian Bitcoin community as the Coinbase of India is a Bangalore based startup. We decided to take a trip to their office, where we met their whole team and spoke at length with Sunny Ray, the President and COO of Unocoin. We started the lively interview by taking some time off to explore Periscope, an application that Sunny Ray has recently fallen in love with and he made us love it too! Guess what, the interview was live on Periscope for the first few minutes and we had about 40 people from different parts of the world watching us. Once we were done exploring the application, we got down to business.
NewsBTC: What made you get into Bitcoin?
Sunny Ray: It all started three years ago when I began asking questions about money and why people use gold etc. I came across Bitcoin on Twitter. As I understood more about Bitcoin, I became more obsessed with it.
Soon I started organizing Bitcoin Meetups, starting with Bangalore while I was still working for a robotics company. I gradually realized that Bitcoin might be the solution to all humanity.
NewsBTC: Your profile says that you were working with a Bitcoin related venture in Canada. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Sunny Ray: I was working with ButterCoin; a Google Venture backed Bitcoin Company in Canada.
NewsBTC: How did Unocoin Start?
Sunny Ray: Unocoin was a product of our regular meetups. While hosting these Bitcoin meetups, we decided to have a Bitcoin resource site where people can learn about Bitcoin. It started as a WordPress blog and gradually evolved into a trading platform.
NewsBTC: How is the awareness about Bitcoin among the people who attend the Meetups?
Sunny Ray: Awareness about Bitcoin is slowly increasing among Indians. Many people attend our Bitcoin meetups, most of them come with the same set of questions regarding the security, volatility and legality of bitcoins. When it comes to fundamentals of Bitcoin, many find it hard to understand.
NewsBTC: You were involved in Bitcoin mining during the early experimental days. Do you still do it?
Sunny Ray: We were mining bitcoins earlier, but not anymore. Even though we invested a lot of money and the returns weren’t profitable, we learnt a lot about Bitcoin, how it works etc. Unocoin is now focused on buying, using and accepting Bitcoin. We enable merchants with online Bitcoin payment collection.
NewsBTC: When did you start Unocoin?
Sunny Ray: About a year and half into organizing meetups, Sathvik, the CEO came up with the plan. He started the project and I played a supporting role. We started making physical bitcoins, organizing Bitcoin conferences and a lot more until we discovered what makes sense in the long term. That’s how we zeroed in on the trading platform. He assumed the CEO’s position and developed the web platform. Mow we have 20 employees and over 12000 users. I am the COO and President at Unocoin.
Unocoin has been around for about a year and 4 months.
NewsBTC: What do you feel about the regulations regarding Bitcoin in India?
Sunny Ray: Bitcoin is not yet regulated in India. Reserve Bank of India has made it clear that it will wait and watch for now. In the wake of various scams and the absence of regulations, we started exploring ways to self-regulate. A law firm, Nishith Desai Associates has conducted an extensive techno-legal analysis of Bitcoin for over a period of two years. They have concluded that Bitcoin is not illegal in India, but what you do with bitcoins is a different issue altogether.
We at Unocoin have studied and adopted KYC and AML regulations from the banking and finance sectors into Bitcoin business. This will help us know whom we have onboard, we conduct document and telephone verification for all our customers. At Unocoin, we treat Bitcoin like real money. In the future, if there are any Bitcoin regulations, we will be prepared and in a position to set the ground for that.
NewsBTC: How are the relations between Indian Bitcoin startups? Is it collaborative or competitive?
Sunny Ray: It is mixed. When it comes to regulations and the whole Bitcoin ecosystem, we collaborate and work with the government by educating them about Bitcoin. On the other hand, when it comes to user acquisition and other day-to-day operations, there is competition.
Frankly, we don’t think much about competition among domestic Bitcoin businesses. We focus on the industry’s big players.
NewsBTC: How hard is it to get new users onboard in the Indian market?
Sunny Ray: It depends on how you look at it. It is definitely not as easy as WhatsApp or other applications. Countries like the US have a faster adoption rate compared to India. But, it has started to pick up here too. We have seen our numbers go up exponentially in the past couple of months. We haven’t spent much on marketing so far. We mostly do online marketing and have a strong media presence. We rather spend money on making our tech more robust and reduce the turnaround time for our customers.
NewsBTC: Tell us about the $250,000 funding you raised recently.
Sunny Ray: Barry Silbert, one of the prolific investors in the Bitcoin community, approached us. He has invested in various big names in the Bitcoin industry, including Coinbase. He is also the founder and CEO of Second Market. He has been very helpful.
NewsBTC: How do Indian investors see Bitcoin based businesses?
Sunny Ray: I’m not so sure about it. We haven’t dealt with any Indian investors so far. We weren’t even looking for investments when we got Barry interested in us. However, Barry has a larger vision; he is investing in one Bitcoin business in each country.
NewsBTC: Any significant partnerships that you would like our readers to know about.
NewsBTC: What do you feel about the future of Bitcoin?
Sunny Ray: Personally, I am very bullish on Bitcoin… I think each Bitcoin could potentially be worth millions in the future. It plays an important part in bringing down the cost of inward remittance. It also acts as digital gold. It will be a form of savings. It has the potential to bank the unbanked, we have a larger percent of them, and it will helpful.
“I would say Bitcoin is the most exciting technology until Periscope. It is so addictive…!”
NewsBTC: Any other technology or digital currency that can potentially replace Bitcoin?
Sunny Ray: Nothing I can think of. None of them is anywhere close to it.