Bitbond: What was your first encounter in Bitcoin?
Ambrose: I first encountered Bitcoin in October 2013. I read up on it and understood quickly how it worked and the potential it had. Like most people I wish I had known about it years ago.
Bitbond: Let us know a bit about your professional background.
Ambrose: I’m an Electronics and Computer Engineer and I graduated in 2010. I have experience in various technology platforms from PC to Raspberry Pi. While I sometimes work on electronics projects, I’ve specialized in systems programming since campus. I built a 3D game engine called Eden3D on top of CMU’s Panda3D in 2009 as I began getting comfortable with Python. Right now my main language is Python and I build systems with Django, CherryPy and PyQt.
Bitbond: When did you start your business Funtrench Limited?
Ambrose: Funtrench was founded in 2008 by a friend of mine and me. I was still in campus then and we did medium-sized software work. We registered the company in 2010, right after I finished my degree. Last year we merged the company with a computer sales business to form the Intellect Alliance, of which Funtrench remains as a subsidiary.
Bitbond: Do you have a team or do you run Funtrench on your own?
Ambrose: I have a team that includes a web developer, a UI developer and two consultants who handle training and deployments.
Bitbond: The integration of the Bitcoin wallet Kipochi into M-PESA was big news. Do you think Bitcoin has become more popular in Kenya since then?
Ambrose: Well, I think very few Kenyans have heard of Kipochi. And that includes among the Kenyans who have heard of Bitcoin. Our system aims to create possibilities for ordinary citizens to integrate Bitcoin into their business, but creating awareness will be a big part of it.
Bitbond: In your project description you mention that Bitcoin is difficult to obtain in Africa. What options are there right now?
Ambrose: Bitcoin is difficult to obtain for two key reasons:
1. Generally banks in Kenya and other countries across Africa are only now beginning to partner with online payment systems. For example, only one bank – Equity Bank – allows bi-directional money transfer with Paypal. And that was launched this year. Previously you could only deposit funds to Paypal but not withdraw, and only two banks provided this. So the options available all begin with buying US dollars and loading them into Paypal or into a credit card. That has charges.
2. Many sites (Bitcoin exchanges) have verification procedures designed for Europe and the US. A lot of things such as utility bills that show the location of your residence, social security numbers, bank accounts that are compatible with international standards and so on are foreign to Africa. So sometimes just getting verified is either difficult or impossible.
Bitbond: You describe that you want to enable small businesses to receive Bitcoin payments. What has Funtrench already achieved regarding this project?
Ambrose: We’ve built a system to process transactions and done market research into the feasibility of an agent network. From the success of various mobile payment solutions like M-Pesa and NikoHapa, we are confident of a successful pilot of our product, codenamed Ganji (street slang for cash).
Bitbond: Do you cooperate with other partners or can you do all that’s required on your own?
Ambrose: Our partners will primarily consist of agents, just like M-Pesa has agents. Any small business can become an agent, earning money from investing the Bitcoin reserves.
Bitbond: Have you already first customers for your solution in mind?
Ambrose: We intend to pilot the solution at popular technology hubs like iHub and M-Lab where a lot of tech-savvy people gather on a daily basis and make purchases of coffee, lunch and snacks. If they can pay for these in Bitcoin and the merchants find it reliably convertible to cash then the pilot will really speak for itself.
What we would like to achieve in the medium-term is a Bitcoin economy where people can send money across East Africa without worrying about large fees or complex currency conversion. Everyone can simply convert Bitcoin to local currency at an agent, and Funtrench provides the platform. By strategic awareness campaigns among small businesses we can reduce the need for people to quickly change their Bitcoin to cash, and encourage the Bitcoin itself to become an acceptable medium of exchange rather than simply a money transfer conduit.