Cryptocurrencies and Mobile Security with Haseeb Awan of Efani
In this episode we cover all things crypto including Bitcoin ATMs and mobile security. Joined by Haseeb Awan, creator of one of the first and largest bitcoin ATMs – Bitaccess and current CEO of Efani, America’s most secure and private cell phone service, we dive into SIM swaps, location tracking, and the future of information protection on mobile devices.
Payments & Fintech Insights In This Episode
- The power of automating debt repayment.
- How crypto will play an essential role in the future of currency.
- The importance of high level security in mobile service.
- The process of evaluating risk tolerance for business related cell service technology.
- The criteria for start-up investing from the perspective of a serial entrepreneur.
- And so much more!
Featured on the Show
- Connect with Haseeb Awan: LinkedIn
- Connect with Efani: LinkedIn | Twitter
- Connect with the Show: LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter
- Subscribe to the Show: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Show Hub
Heather: Hi, everyone. Welcome to “PayPod.” I’m your host, Heather Bodie. And today, we’re going to be talking about all things crypto, including Bitcoin ATMs, as well as mobile security. Joining me to dive into these topics is Haseeb Awan, creator of one of the first and largest Bitcoin ATMs, Bitaccess. He’s also the CEO of Efani, America’s most secure and private cell phone service, which protects people against SIM swaps, eavesdropping, and location tracking. Haseeb, welcome to the show.
Haseeb: Thank you, Heather, for having me on the show.
Heather: Absolutely. So, as an early entrepreneur in the cryptocurrency space, tell us how you ended up in the world of crypto, where did you first learn about it, and what led you to creating Bitaccess?
Haseeb: I got involved in crypto almost eight years ago, like in 2013, I believe, 12-13. And then I just bought it for investment point of view. There was no other incentive, to be honest, at that time. I got interested because this thing was rising up. And the concept of having like digital money was pretty exciting to me. So, we bought some Bitcoins. And then we, later on, started a Bitcoin ATM company. And since then, we haven’t looked back.
Heather: As a company on the forefront of building distributed networks of access, who have you found to be the most ideal partners or ideal locations for these terminals?
Haseeb: So, it has changed a lot, right? But pretty much it’s like any retail location, you need to have good foot traffic, secure place in the middle of city, and then we have some cities which were very heavy on crypto. So you can go to a major city like Toronto, New York, Las Vegas, and you’ll get a lot of business out there. But obviously, if you go to a small city, people are not as educated. They’re more conservative, so adoption wasn’t there. But in bigger cities like Montreal, Toronto, it was a massive adoption for us.
Heather: As an early adopter yourself, I imagine the current skepticism or when people still continue to question you around all things cryptocurrency. It must feel like old news to you. Is Bitaccess working to increase education and awareness around the functionality of blockchain technology?
Haseeb: Frankly, for us, the mandate wasn’t to educate people, it was more to how to make it quicker, because at that time, we had exchanges like, Mt. Gox, PVC, both of them got shut down. Quadriga, another one who has shutdown. So, this trust in crypto is very, very low. So, you have, on one hand, you have people who are totally bearish on crypto, that’s one thing. But also on the second hand, you have people who absolutely have zero idea about crypto, but also, they don’t know how to buy crypto.
Haseeb: So, we made it super simple for people to buy crypto because they can walk up to a machine, and always, people have more trust for a physical location than an online location. So, if someone asks you, “Can you send in money somewhere?” They may not prefer to do that. But if you ask them, “Hey, give me dollars and I’ll give you something in return immediately,” people are more receptive to that. So that created the trust around crypto at that time.
Heather: For those listeners who are not familiar or who have not engaged with a Bitaccess ATM, can you talk to me a little bit about what that experience is like? What are all of the things that an individual can do when they walk up to one of your machines?
Haseeb: So, our machines are pretty simple. It’s like a regular kiosk machine. You just walk in and you do KYC, like we verify your telephone number, so everything. And you put your dollar in, $10, $15, whatever who you want to buy from, and then you scan your wallet like a public key, and the Bitcoins are sent to that public key. And that is how simple.
So, on average, roughly it would take like 60 seconds for the entire transaction to complete. Similar to walking up to a bank ATM and putting your card in, putting it, punch in your key and getting money back. So it was almost similar to that. And the experience was super simple. So, anyone can do it. Your grandmother can walk into and perform a transaction.
Heather: And that’s important, too. Different generations engage with technology in different ways. And I know there are folks across a range of demographics that are interested in cryptocurrency but have to find their own way of access. And so I think this just increases the capabilities for individuals to access Bitcoin transactions. So, I think that’s really great. You built your business around Bitcoin specifically, but do you see a future where Bitaccess expands to include additional cryptocurrencies?
Haseeb: Possibly, like I left the company, like four or five years ago.
Heather: Oh, okay.
Haseeb: So, obviously, I can’t speak on their behalf. But I believe there’s a…if you ask me personally, I think there’s a lot of need for different cryptocurrencies in the world. I think token is a very interesting way of build companies, and that’s how our economy flourish.
Heather: I’m curious, and I know you said you left the company a few years ago, are you still an active cryptocurrency user and enthusiast? Is that something…?
Haseeb: Absolutely. I’m very bullish on crypto. On a personal level, I’m super bullish. I’m super curious and that’s where my majority of net worth is.
Heather: I’d love to get your perspective around regulation. Where do you fall on the regulatory spectrum when it comes to cryptocurrencies?
Haseeb: So I think that cryptocurrency will be regulated. There’s no question about it. How they will be regulated, I don’t know. Like, one of the regulations are that every exchange has to follow money service business, absolutely, that’s one thing. A lot of laws that apply in the real world, they apply on crypto, too, like, you have to pay income tax, or like, capital gains tax. So, there’s a lot of regulations only apply. I don’t see any other extra regulation being applied to crypto, and that probably it will be treated as money, probably within a couple of years, where it’s money, is a form of money,
Heather: Right, just another form of money, like the paper money that sits in our wallet.
Haseeb: Or asset.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. Let’s switch gears for a bit and talk about mobile security. Alongside your work, developing and growing Bitaccess, you are currently the CEO of Efani. We often talk about security and privacy on this show. And what Efani security and privacy is at the very heart of your business model. What led you to founding Efani? And what has it been like getting into the mobile service space?
Haseeb: So the way it works is, like, our SIM swap four times. So, people who don’t know, anyone can actually walk into a store or call in your carrier and take ownership of your SIM card. That’s a pretty common crime that happens to thousands of people per day. So, what we are trying to do here is that we said, “Why is this a rocket? Like, why this was a challenge?” It’s a simple thing, just brought access to your account. But that wasn’t possible by any carrier.
So what we did was, we said that why don’t you make it super simple for anyone to basically switch to a carrier that no one can hack? So that’s what we created. We just said, “We will build a carrier that’s secure.” We don’t do anything else. We don’t give you Hulu. We don’t give you Netflix. We don’t give you family plan, like, we don’t do all those things. We just give you one thing and that’s security. So we said, “If anything goes wrong on our system, we’ll also give you a $500 insurance policy.”
Heather: And if you can speak to it, what is the makeup of a typical client of Efani’s?
Haseeb: We generally deal with important people, like, we normally say, they’re, like, top one percent of the world. So, like CEO of the company, COOs, executive director, investor, someone who’s important. That’s what we basically people will deal with. Now, everyone in the world is technically important, right? Like, everyone is super critical in the world. It’s just that for some people, the phone is hacked, the cost is much higher. So then they make a decision on, “Should I lose everything I have in my bank, and my contacts and my privacy, or should I pay a bit extra?”
People make their own decision. Are they important enough that their cell phone can be hacked and can cause some challenges to the reputation or their financial situation? So, generally, enterprises buy this. And we work with a lot of enterprises and everyone, so, yeah, that’s how we work.
Heather: I know the average consumer is used to, whether they walk into a brick and mortar store for one of their cell service provider, they’re used to it being the sort of wraparound service of you can choose your phone in the store. And like you said, you can add on all of these things. You get Hulu. You get this, you get that, all of that, right? Your sounds a little more specific. So, do people come to you already owning their devices?
Haseeb: Yeah, people most of the time come to owning their devices. Yes, that’s correct.
Heather: And then you’re providing the service and the privacy.
Haseeb: Correct. So, our focus is mostly on security, like, frankly, because the reason I’m saying that privacy is very, very, it’s relative, right? That, okay, we use people credit card, people use Facebook, people use Instagram, people share their number everywhere. So, it’s almost impossible to say you’re 100% private. We don’t sell data. That’s our policy. But at the same time, the concept of having 100% privacy phone does not exist in the world.
As long as you’re connected with the world, people will know about you. So, your concept of privacy may be different from my concept of privacy, but one thing we are very good at is that security, and that we secure people’s cell phone. Again, a simple problem, we’re just in-stepping.
Heather: Apart from your own work building and leading team. I read on your LinkedIn profile, you’re also an investor in many other companies. What qualities draw you to a company that’s seeking investment?
Haseeb: So ultimately, the investment is always a risk, like, you’re always betting on something, and the bigger the risk is, the bigger the reward is. The question now is that in investment, obviously, the first criteria is, will I have a better return of money? And it is within legal? Is it ethical? And if this checks out, you basically invest in that company.
Generally, if you look at most of our founders, the people that you can trust and people you can believe that they can make it happen because startups are very, very tough. You can have the perfect idea, you’re a perfect team, perfect execution, but things have to work. It doesn’t work out, and some people give up earlier, some people take a long time before they actually can show result.
So, you’re looking for idea then also one of the persons [inaudible 00:10:01] is have a…can I have this person or not? It is something I understand. And this is not personally from like, I’m comfortable doing things that I don’t know. But is it something that excites me or not? So, a lot of time it becomes emotional.
Heather: What’s next for Efani? Any exciting new offerings or projects? What should folks keep an eye out for?
Haseeb: The way we are trying to utilize, Efani is a private cell phone. It’s like secure cell phone service. We are looking to build a network for using our existing clientage. So, we are trying to build a decent live wireless carrier in the US, which allow anyone to be their own tower, but not the same tower, but also cell phone service as well. So that’s what we’re trying to build in the US.
And our challenge is that it should be built to build a distributed cellphone service across U.S. or across the world. So, we are looking for interesting ways where we can leverage NFT’s and DAO structures to actually build crypto networks.
Heather: All right, we have a segment that we close out every show with, we do five questions rapid fire. Haseeb, are you ready?
Heather: Okay. Make a prediction about the changes in the very immediate future of crypto, what do you think will happen in the next 12 to 24 months?
Haseeb: With the Ukraine war and, like, Russia being cut off from the SWIFT banking system, a lot of banks, there’s a movement happening in that area where we’re trying to, people are thinking of Bitcoin as a hedge, that’s happening. So, what I’m thinking in the entire crypto stuff is that if Russia started buying Bitcoins, too, like, basically, you make all the sanctions ineffective. So, what can U.S. come up with to make those sanctions effective, because even if you have a Russian Bitcoin or a Bitcoin that’s mined in Russia, how can you make sure that doesn’t underpin U.S.?
So, that will basically be…there may be some regulations around it, and that will basically kill the basic purse of a Bitcoin, where every Bitcoin can be transferred across the world. Like, if I get a Bitcoin, which is tainted, and I cannot use it anymore, because it was sent through some Russia or, like, someone that was sanctioned, what’s my response around it? How did the economy come down? And how the U.S. come to deal with it?
Because now you have a big challenge of clean versus bad Bitcoins. And that may create, like, a clear division between Bitcoins, like, you have a bigger exchange in US, can they accept a Bitcoin, or other things? But I personally believe it is Bitcoin mining. If a sanctioned company is mining the Bitcoin, and you are a US public limited company, and you’re doing a transfer of Bitcoin, you’re effectively paying a fee to that sanctioned country.
So, how do the laws apply there? So, I think that’s where, I think regulation will come in and it will be interesting to see what stands US takes, because it will determine the future of Bitcoin.
Heather: What’s one cool piece of payment or a finance-related technology that you’ve come across recently that impressed you?
Haseeb: I think, like, we have a lot of audits and everything. I was getting a demo of a company where you can actually pay-per-article as you consume. So, like, rather than buying an entire subscription of “New York Times,” you just pay for per article. That was a pretty cool thing.
Haseeb: A lot of people have tried it. But like, it hasn’t succeeded. So, I think, I hope they are successful. And second part would be, like, Stripe getting into crypto. They were always into crypto, but can you just pay for payment? Can you just pay using Stripe button, so you don’t need two merchants on website? And that’s pretty exciting, too.
Heather: The next five years, most people will be making purchases with either Bitcoin, Apple Pay, or some other type of currency? Which one and why?
Haseeb: Obviously, if you have Bitcoin, and a lot of people only survive Bitcoin. They will always say, “Pay through Bitcoin.” And if we believe that Bitcoin will become a standard for holding, the only challenge with crypto payments is that they’re not seamless right now. There [inaudible 00:14:00] involved, the chargebacks and other things. So, crypto payments should have a way to go, in my personal opinion.
Heather: What’s a piece of advice you have for someone who’s considering getting into financial technology as a career?
Haseeb: Oh, truth. Crypto is the best thing to work on right now. Massive opportunities, so much to build, like for the first time, you’re actually able to build a financial system in front of your eyes. In the past, you had to depend on bank, like, if you have to start a bank, it was impossible. But now you can technically build a bank by just writing few lines of code.
Heather: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Haseeb: Make a lot of mistakes and learn from them, and move faster. That’s pretty much what I can say.
Heather: Right. Great, Haseeb, thank you so much for joining us today. If folks want to get in touch with you or learn more about your company, where can they find you?
Haseeb: They can just type “secure mobile service” on Google or just type efani.com, E-F-A-N-I.
Heather: Great. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Haseeb: Thank you. Bye-bye.
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