Most Things in Life Are an Experiment: an Interview with Zippcoin Co-Founder Ivan Sucharski

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PeopleZippcoin is an experiment in digital currency, rather than a full-blown cryptocurrency with the security of a blockchain or the perils of mining costs. It bills itself as transparent, utilitarian, and egalitarian, with those registered as female receiving a larger weekly base allowance than those registering as men. Yes, that’s right: allowance. Like MiracleCoin, the cryptocurrency that is distributed directly to wallets rather than miners and relies on proof-of-stake to secure its network, everyone with a Zippcoin account receives an allowance every single week.

CCN couldn’t help but get them to answer a couple questions about this system. On the same day of the conclusion of this interview, Zippcoin announced that open registration was now over, and in order to get an account new users would have to be invited by existing users. Here is an invite.

This interview took place between Dec. 17th and 18th, 2014, via e-mail. 

Also read: Bank of Canada Looking Into Issuing Digital Currency

CCN Interview with Ivan Sucharski

CCN: Why the name Zippcoin? Are you guys into compression?

Ivan Sucharski: Not exactly… when we were at the point where our project needed a name, we started looking at other altcoins out there. While it was around the time that Dogecoin was just picking up steam, the established players like Litecoin, Feathercoin etc. just had names and missions that seemed too serious. We thought Zippcoin sounded good, was somewhat humorous, and it expressed the idea of being fast but also maybe being nothing at all. One of our first (fake) mottos was “Zippcoin – worth exactly what you think it is.” In the spirit of fun, it stuck. I’m a big fan of wordplay and once ended a speech with “may you all get exactly what you deserve” – that should be an insight into our naming conventions (though credit goes to John [Patton, the other co-founder] for coming up with the name.)

CCN: Tell me a little bit about why you chose to give women more in their allowance? Have you received any feedback on that?

IS: Like most technology, there are a lot more men that get into it early and really geek out on it. Virtual currencies are no different. We wanted a way to add some increased appeal to women, and perhaps get people to talk about it, or question it (ha! It worked…) The idea of an allowance to begin with was novel, but we thought we could take it one step further by rewarding women for participating more than men.

As for the feedback, it’s been mixed. Some people have responded favorably, thinking it was funny or exciting. We got one comment of “oh man! Now I have to get my S.O. to sign up for this!” Recently we heard a different view – some women found it patronizing or kind of creepy. We always approached the idea innocently, as a promotion method, a talking piece, a novelty.

CCN: What are your plans for downloadable wallets?

IS: We don’t have any plans for downloadable wallets. We aren’t a decentralized currency like cryptos – by design, so downloadable wallets don’t make sense with our technology. We decided that we wanted to help those who were interested in digital or virtual currencies but who might find the hoops (wallets, mining etc.) of cryptos to be too daunting or beyond their ability. So we started the Zippcoin experiment instead – a centralized and transparent virtual social currency that doesn’t need a wallet, takes 2 minutes to set up, and that has a weekly allowance.

CCN: In terms of real assets, what is anchoring Zippcoin?

IS: No fair! That’s a loaded question. Like most digital currencies (crypto or otherwise) there is no underlying anchor beyond the social faith and willingness to use the currency in some meaningful way.

CCN: If it’s an experiment, what would define success, and what would define failure?

IS: Most things in life are an experiment, we just publicly admit Zippcoin is one. Success to us is creating a community of people who are using Zippcoin to engage with one another in some novel way, whether it is for barter, communication, or some way we haven’t thought of yet. We wanted to create a platform for others to manipulate, without too many barriers to entry. As a token economy, a favor tracker, a way to show appreciation or humor… all of these things constitute success. Especially amazing would be if people used Zippcoin in ways we never imagined.

Failure, on the other hand, would be if we threw a party and nobody showed up – we could have the greatest invention in the world up in our clubhouse, and nobody would ever know it. I’m a social psychologist by training, so just watching people play, interact, and learn is immensely rewarding. I believe the rest of the team would agree with that. We made a map of who has interacted with Zippcoin – we’ve touched people in dozens of countries and we are just getting started!

CCN: Where are your users most highly concentrated, though, out of curiosity?

IS: You can actually look at where the last 50 users came from if you log in to your Zippcoin wallet. Not surprisingly, lots of folks in the US, but a considerable number have also come from Europe (mostly UK). We have also seen folks from India, Vietnam, really all over the place! It’s great to be able to have such a reach and see the worldwide interest in digital currencies. Citizens in every country will have their own reasons for digital currency use – from practical to political and we are happy to be a part of that in whatever way we can.

CCN: Well, I suppose since there’s no assumed risk, except for people who purchase them, it makes sense that the value is going to be trivial. What, then, is the incentive for people to buy Zippcoins and how reliant is the company on that happening?

IS: Since we are giving away Zippcoins as part of an allowance, the barrier to entry is minimal. However, there will always be people who want to catch up or who want more to use. We wanted to be sure that for those who did find a need for acquiring more could do so. Frankly we would rather have people figure out how to get Zippcoins from other members to jump start a healthy ecosystem. As for the company’s reliance on selling Zippcoins, I’d argue that is a non-issue at this point.

CCN: What are the prospects of a Zippcoin digital goods store where, say, I could sell an eBook with the same ease I can do so on Scribd or with PayPal?

IS: We would love to see individuals or merchants willing to trade goods and services for Zippcoin, and then to go on to trade what they acquired in kind. One goal beyond general education around the basics of digital currencies is getting enough people willing to use the coin as a unit of accounting. This is facilitated, in part, by distributing the coin broadly. Our next challenges are getting those pioneer users to open up shop where taking Zippcoin is an option, and we are happy to help them do that whether they are a teenager taking Zippcoin in trade for math tutoring or an established business dealing with digital or physical goods.

CCN: How big of an economy, that is how many users of the coin, do you predict having in 5 years? Do you have a set goal?

IS: I’m a stats guy, so I take the term “predict” somewhat more seriously than most. As such, the error bars on any current estimate I would make are so large as to be useless at this point. Five years is a long time, and most things look nothing like they did 5 years ago. We generally prefer baby steps, careful attention, and small corrections over broad sweeps (whenever possible). I’d love to see hundreds of thousands of users or more, because that would mean that we have convinced a critical mass to be a part of our playground. It would also mean merchant adoption or platform usefulness or both (depending on how we mutate in the meantime).

On the flip side, the world of virtual currencies is young, and nobody knows what happens next. Maybe we will have zero human users, and instead a million sensors will transfer Zippcoin as payment for data transactions within the emerging Internet of Things ecosystem. There are lots of options and opportunities we (the world) haven’t thought of yet.

CCN: What are the future prospects for Zippcoin as you see them?

IS: We believe in the appropriate application of agile processes in our approach to business, meaning that we will constantly test the temperature of the market for what we are offering and how we might shift it slightly (or radically) in order to make it appealing, engaging, and useful. Right now we have a basic platform, an API for others to integrate into, and a small but growing user base. There are a lot of options and opportunities in this space, and we hope that our unique angle on education, social connection, ease of acquisition, and simplicity make for a compelling offering. We see ourselves as a low risk digital currency that users can play with in order to become comfortable with transacting digitally outside of the normal bounds of say a bank application or a digital Starbucks card, much less the less familiar cryptocurrency universe. As we grow, we will become more attractive to those who want to integrate, and together we will forge a digital ecosystem that fits the current state of the market and the players within it. Our team consists of a scientist, a businessman, and an engineer – pretty well rounded I’d say. Each of our competing (but mostly complimentary) approaches to perfection keep us challenging one another and help us to push the boundaries of what is possible. The future is cloudy… but in a “I wonder what’s next” way rather than a “Oh god! Stop the car, I can’t see!” way.

Disclaimer: the author holds a Zippcoin account and receives an allowance at the male rate.

Images from Pixabay and Zippcoin Inc.

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