…Crypto education in schools. They don’t even teach enough about mainstream financial best practices, so this is probably a pipedream, but eventually we need to teach the kids about digital currency, so they grow up knowing its benefits and how to use it. The only way to remove the stigma is to shed light on it.
As part of my series about the “5 Ways That We Can Help Stabilize The Cryptocurrency Market” I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris McAlary.
Chris McAlary is the Founder and CEO of Coin Cloud, the world’s leader in Digital Currency Machines (DCMs). From his early days as a Bitcoin miner to now, McAlary is a pioneer in the cryptocurrency industry. As a partner with many of America’s leading retail chains, Coin Cloud has automated, digitized, and transformed the way people access cash in the mobile wallet economy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?
I moved to Las Vegas to play poker competitively and that led me to become interested in Bitcoin. When major offshore poker websites were shut down, I lost a lot of money — and as a result, I lost trust in the single available online crypto exchange, which was based overseas. I wanted to deal with digital currency, but without that huge risk, so I built my first mining rig and started mining Bitcoin myself.
Numerous experiences with local decentralized peer-to-peer trading — meaning meeting strangers in coffee shops or casinos to trade Bitcoin for cash — left me thinking there must be a better way. In 2013, I came across another Las Vegas company that had created a Bitcoin ATM prototype. Because of strict regulations in the US, they installed that first BTM in Vancouver, BC. Suddenly, history was made, and I realized how much potential this new model had.
I started collaborating with the owners of that company, as well as with an attorney I went to college with. We had to do a lot of research into laws and regulations, but we finally found success, and the first Coin Cloud Bitcoin ATM was installed on the Las Vegas Strip in 2014 — in fact, the first BTM on the Strip, period. It was built for us by the prototype manufacturer, branded Coin Cloud, and serviced by me personally. Whenever there was a problem with the machine, I would go down there to take care of it in person. Whenever a customer service call came in, I would field it on my own. It was pretty crazy.
Today, Coin Cloud is the largest Bitcoin ATM company in the world, with over 1,000 machines (and growing constantly), all of which allow two-way transactions of Bitcoin and 30 altcoins. In fact, over 60% of all two-way Bitcoin ATMs in the US are Coin Cloud. Our first international expansion was to Brazil, offering that country the first opportunity ever to purchase digital currency with cash.
Can you tell us the story of how you got first involved with the Regtech or Crypto markets?
When the offshore poker sites were shut down, and I lost my stack, it made me want to find a way to have more control over my money. Bitcoin offered a new answer. But with the only online crypto exchange being overseas as well — which later got hacked, causing more people to lose money — nothing was secure or guaranteed. There was way more questions than answers.
I tried peer-to-peer trading, but after meeting half a dozen people in shady places, never sure whether I’d be scammed or worse, I didn’t really want to keep doing that. It just didn’t seem safe in those early “Wild West” days. Looking back, I’m glad I was part of it because all those experiences prompted me to start something new. But at the time, there were way more challenges than solutions.
That’s what inspired me to start Bitcoin mining. It allowed me to make Bitcoin without having to deal with shady operations. I had never built a computer before, but I managed to build my own high-powered mining rig and bring in a Bitcoin a day. Today, that would be a fortune.
But there were pros and cons there too. The electricity to run a machine like that was incredibly expensive, and after a while I couldn’t deal with the power bills. That’s what led me to start investigating other options, and it’s why I was so persistent about bringing the Bitcoin ATM to the USA, against all odds.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m very grateful for the early Bitcoin community, especially the undisputed groundbreakers: Satoshi Nakamoto, of course, who created Bitcoin, and Gavin Andresen, founder of the Bitcoin Foundation. I discovered the EconTalk podcast in 2011, which really got me interested and curious about diving deeper into the topic of cryptocurrency. But where to go from there? In those early days, one of the few ways you could learn about Bitcoin was reading and asking questions on the BitcoinTalk forum, which consisted of BTC’s pioneer contributors and adopters. So, I spent a lot of time studying there and conversing with other enthusiasts. I’ve found this community to be very intelligent, cooperative, and a huge resource to my personal growth, as well as the growth of Bitcoin overall.
Can you share 5 things that should be done to help stabilize the Crypto Economy?
More industry best practices. We’ve made a great start by working with FinCEN and other regulatory bodies, but the industry needs to pull together, operate with conscience, and design new coins and tokens that will make the world a better place.
More Bitcoin ATMs! Unlike online exchanges, which are driven by news and speculation, BTM usage is much more driven by day-to-day transactions like remittance, investment, and payments. BTMs are a familiar access point and bring in lots of first-time users. The more users in Bitcoin, the more stable the network, and BTMs are the vehicle to spread Bitcoin usage to the masses.
More mainstream advertising, promotion, education, and PSAs to reduce the perception that crypto is for criminals. There are still people who think that anything to do with cryptocurrency is a scam, and it’s mainly because they don’t understand it.
Crypto education in schools. They don’t even teach enough about mainstream financial best practices, so this is probably a pipedream, but eventually we need to teach the kids about digital currency, so they grow up knowing its benefits and how to use it. The only way to remove the stigma is to shed light on it.
Widespread adoption in the banking industry. We have a love-hate relationship with mainstream financial institutions, and it’s only because they don’t really understand us yet. Once we’ve established that we’re in the same game, and that virtual currency can be trusted just as much as fiat can — or in some cases, even more — then I think people will come around and start to see crypto as just another type of money.
In your experience, what are the top strategies that crypto firms should be considering in order to have a competitive edge?
Make it easy for customers. The concepts are complicated enough, so we need to simplify the process and the understanding. If you want more customers, you need to make it as fast, simple and easy to do as possible.
Be compliant and trusted. The crypto community is incorrectly seen by some as a playground for criminal activity, so you need to build trust and prove you’re not out to scam anyone. You need to give a good user experience and have great customer service and support. You also need to follow all the rules and regulations, including being registered as a Money Services Business (MSB) with FinCEN and being compliant with the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and corresponding Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) laws.
Be patient, because new industries take time to develop. Even though Bitcoin is over a decade old and Bitcoin ATMs have been around for 7 years, we always keep top of mind that we’re still in infancy. Banking ATMs are over 50 years old, and vending machines have been around for 140 years… 7 years is nothing. It’s only when you become impatient that you get sloppy and lose your edge. Slow and steady wins the race.
What are the 3 things that most excite you about the blockchain industry? Why?
DeFi (Decentralized Finance) is extremely exciting to watch, because a lot of innovative projects have been announced and launched. It’s taking old-school financial products and making them transparent, decentralized, open source, and without connection to traditional systems. This might be the future of economics and proves how blockchain technology can be used for many purposes.
Tokenization of assets is a way of giving power to technology, and thereby power to the people. This technology gives the ability for everyday people to walk into their favorite pizza shop and purchase an ownership stake in the business through a few clicks on their mobile device. Or to buy rare artwork and display it in a virtual, tokenized form. That’s mind blowing, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Permissionless technology allows anyone and everyone to innovate on these open-source platforms, and that has led to breakneck growth. It’s basically removing the stumbling blocks, gatekeepers and other barriers to entry, so anyone can create their vision. I think that model is going to allow an incredible amount of new creations that we could only have imagined before.
What are the 3 things worry you about the blockchain industry? Why?
DeFi is in hyper-growth, and that could be good or bad. I worry that many experimental projects could blow up and some investors could lose funds because they may not have understood the risks. I mean, just look at the crazy developments of SushiSwap, whose founder sold 13 million dollars in startup funds, seemed to be pulling an exit scam, and then gave it all back with an apology. There was also Yam, which plummeted 60 million dollars in just over half an hour. These are stories you just can’t make up. They’re Hollywood-worthy. And yet they’re happening, right in front of our eyes.
The risks of ill-thought-out government regulations concern me. I get that the government wants to control cryptocurrency, but that’s not what it was designed for. Coin Cloud is a leader in the industry when it comes to government compliance. Regulations for Bitcoin ATMs didn’t even exist before we started charting that territory. But when it comes to regulating the population, and keeping track of how much crypto they own, part of me thinks it could be a big Pandora’s Box. I’m not sure just jumping on the bandwagon and demanding transparency is the best course of action for the government to take.
We have so many unknown unknowns! And that might sound tongue-in-cheek, but I’m serious. In the grand scheme of things, this industry is still in its infancy. Anything could happen, anything could be the next big development, and anything could cause everything to come crashing down. We just don’t know, and that’s exciting, but also scary as heck.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I feel like offering people more convenient access to digital assets is a crucial service that helps the world in more ways than one. First of all, digital currency is a means to more widespread economic freedom, which measures people’s ability to be part of the economy. This includes property rights, labor regulation, ease of starting a business, currency stability, and free trade with other nations. Not every country has these rights or abilities, and not every person in every country has economic freedom. But cryptocurrency makes it easier to achieve by offering decentralized, borderless financial services to everyone.
Economic freedom brings higher income, longer life expectancy, less violence and corruption, fewer wars, better education, more literacy, and higher levels of happiness. It leads to a lot of positive results and goes hand in hand with personal empowerment, equality and justice for all. It’s basically empowering people by putting economics in their hands. And I’m proud to be part of that.
Secondly, there are far too many people in the world who don’t have access to banking services like loans, credit cards, or even a checking account or debit card. The unbanked and underbanked rely on our services to survive, to access currency in a digital form, and to send and receive money from family members. Often, they have to rely solely on cash transactions, but we give them a way to turn that cash into virtual currency and use it around the world.
Can you share a story of a time when things went south for you? What kept you going and helped you to overcome those times?
Things happen every day that could be seen as “going south.” There are always stumbling blocks and challenges to overcome. You can’t focus on the problems, or you’ll never get past them. You have to be patient and keep working on it, and then you’ll achieve success. I went through failure after failure before launching our first Bitcoin ATM on the Vegas Strip, and I dealt with breakdown after breakdown afterwards. Many people would have given up, but if I had done that, we wouldn’t be looking at the success we have now. You can’t go from point A to point B if you’re just looking at how far you have left to go. So, I just always remind myself to stay positive, be patient, and keep persisting.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Thomas Edison (1874–1931)
This quote resonates with me because when I first started out with the Coin Cloud journey, I failed over and over. Nobody had done it before in the USA so there weren’t any successful footsteps to follow in. The first machine we had built just kept breaking down, and malfunctioning, and I was getting so many customer support calls, which I answered myself. But I kept going, and kept plugging on, which is one of my personality traits that can be good or bad, depending on the situation. In this case, it was good, because otherwise we wouldn’t be here today talking about this.
I don’t think I quite had 10,000 failures, like Edison did before inventing the lightbulb … but it sure felt like it sometimes. I’ve heard that most people give up when they’re close to the finish line — when they’ve accomplished 90% and only have 10% to go. But they don’t know that. In my opinion, you need to just push through, because you’ll cross the goal line right after you’re about to throw in the towel.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow our official Coin Cloud accounts on social media, @CoinCloudATM. We also have an extensive website with a Bitcoin ATM map locator, digital wallet app downloads, online Bitcoin purchase options, and a blog packed with free informational articles at CoinCloudATM.com.
My personal website is at ChrisMcAlary.com.
Thank you so much for this. This was very enlightening!