I was recently lucky enough to speak with James Piechota of Yellow and ShuBitcoin. If you haven’t heard of these companies, that’s probably because you aren’t part of their target market: The Middle East! They’re part of a growing number of companies in the digital currency space that are choosing to focus on a niche market. Firms like Korbit, QuadrigaCX, and Mexbt all tailor their services to a subset of digital currency users rather than the total population. Is this the future of digital currency service providers?
Regulation has been in the news regarding digital currencies basically non-stop this past year. From BitLicense to PayBase being accused of operating as a money transmitter without the appropriate license to do so, digital currencies and the service providers that use them are undergoing growing pains. It’s an uphill battle. In addition, each region has homegrown regulations and regulators. Canada may have different demands than the U.S. and both may be different from Mexico. The U.S. has been the nexus of digital currency development, which means users and companies benefit from collective progress and information. Not so in the Middle East, or most other regions. Companies that cater to geographic niches have to wage their own war for regulatory acceptance, a strain on the limited resources of a start-up. The payoff is that they may have a hand in shaping the regulations in their region, not just for their benefit, but for many others as well. It’s a rare intersection where capitalistic profit motives meet idealistic for-the-good motives.
For developers, targeting a specific region, especially one that may be their ancestral home, carries meaningful challenges. The strategy for Yellow is to focus on the Levant, which is evidenced by their supported languages: Arabic, English, and French. This is a good vector for entry into the Middle East. The infrastructure to support digital currencies, specifically strong telecommunication networks and broadly available internet access, is present in the Arabic and French speaking nations in this part of the world. Though not strictly a Levantine nation, the Arab world derives much of their culture from Egypt, so supporting digital currency usage in Egypt could prove to be a portal into the larger Middle East. The critical considerations here require nuanced knowledge of the Middle East, knowledge that is available to natives, but less so to outsiders. Doing business in any niche requires nuanced knowledge, and the fact that digital currencies are themselves a niche, means the pool of individuals with the knowledge to work with both is small.
That’s James Piechota and the team at Yellow/ShuBitcoin. They’re trying to fill a need in a uniquely tumultuous part of the world. If digital currencies can alleviate some of the suffering, and raise families out of poverty, it will validate the inherent value that proponents have been forcefully advocating exists all along. The focus on remittance and regional needs may prove to be the most important aspect of digital currencies. We need more people like James and his team seeking out opportunities presented by the uniqueness of digital currencies, and the uniqueness of nations and regions.
Image via Yellow’s website. The logo was created by Greta