Much has been written about buying bitcoin in specific, and cryptocurrency in general. Whether it’s investing or gambling, whether it’s a good idea or immoral – no ink has been spared in uncovering every angle on cryptocurrency and what its purchase and sale will mean for the future of money.
With one, curious exception, as Ben, Inc. co-founder and CEO Miguel Kudry noted in an interview with PYMNTS. For all that is said about the buying and selling of bitcoin and cryptocurrency, he noted, almost no one ever mentions the fact that buying bitcoin is incredibly confusing and extremely difficult, unless one already happens to know a lot about it.
It’s a lesson that Kudry learned the hard way the first time he bought bitcoin in early 2017 and tried to move funds from one wallet to another.
“Neither exchange really told me anything about what was going on, and so I actually thought I had just lost my funds,” he said. “A little research on my own and I realized there was just a lag between the transfers.”
Eventually, he said, he figured out cryptocurrency the way most people in the space do: He went to a “bitcoin friend” to ask for help.
And that is a great strategy, if one’s friend is really an expert on bitcoin, or is at least reasonably knowledgeable. But if one’s friend is a bit more akin to an “expert,” Kudry noted, one runs the risk of getting some pretty bad advice that could turn out to be pretty expensive. “And there aren’t really a lot of experts in such a new space.”
Kudry said he and his co-founder, Alex Sismanis, decided there was an opportunity to give people a better way to buy and sell crypto, by building a knowledgeable, AI-based chatbot “friend” named Ben “so that everyone could have an actual expert to talk to about bitcoin.”
How It Works
Ben, as Kudry described it, is designed as a combination cryptocurrency wallet and education center all in one digital, app-based home. Their product, he noted, is specifically targeted to the consumer who has never bought bitcoin, or any other form of digital currency, but has heard of it and is maybe curious about how to put a toe in.
“We also target customers who have heard of bitcoin, and really just want to know what it is,” he added.
What that educational catalog looks like, according to Kudry, is pretty broad: There are the basics and history of bitcoin, or comparisons between various types of blockchain-based currencies. For users who want to take on complex topics, they can also look into what the blockchain is and what kind of use cases it can be put toward.
Apart from backward-looking education, he noted, Ben also focuses on pulling in and updating its news feed, simply because the cryptocurrency is one where the data changes rapidly.
“Offering people education in the space is not only about helping them understand the technology and how it works – it is also helping them understand that it moves very rapidly and that things happen every day that affect price and the development of the tech,” Kudry said. “It’s important that people know what is going on.”
Cryptocurrency, he noted, is a volatile space – something pretty easily seen last year, when people started buying up bitcoin because the price was spiking, without having any idea what they were really purchasing. Those people got burned when the price dropped out early in 2018, he said, likely because they didn’t really understand that bitcoin and crypto are a volatile new asset class that is prone to price spikes and come-downs.
“We are putting education first, because we believe people should not buy something that they do not really understand,” Kudry said.
Customers, though, after spending some time on-site learning, tend to make their first crypto purchase with Ben, via their digital wallet. The customer is “walked through” a process, which involves a KYC interaction, to verify their identity, add a bank account and create their coin wallet. That wallet is stored in the cloud, but the private keys necessary for spending the coin live only on the wallet owner’s personal device.
Ben, Kudry noted, also gives new users a backup seed to write down in case they lose their phone.
In addition to its educational focus and goal to create the crypto buyer of tomorrow, Ben stands apart because so much of its interface is done through chat, as the learning AI bot guides users through all phases. Consumers are led to educational and news content by asking Ben questions. They set up their wallets – and later arrange transactions – by texting with Ben and instructing it what to do.
“I think text-based AI was the obvious solution, just because we found when people are talking about bitcoin – with that ‘bitcoin friend’ – chat is the most likely user interface,” Kudry pointed out.
The challenge in that, he noted, is building an AI that can handle a conversational exchange with a non-technical user on a subject that can run as technical as cryptocurrency. That required a lot of design work in-house, particularly around designing how users are likely to navigate the app and trying to anticipate what areas consumers will be most curious about.
But a lot of the magic, he said, is yet to come – because the more Ben talks, the better Ben gets.
“Ben will get much better over time as it answers more questions and learns to have more conversations on more specific topics.”
In time, he noted, that will make Ben not just a useful product for novices in the cryptocurrency world, but also for more experienced players. They’ve seen some of that in their early days, he noted. The site is mostly pitched to those who are new to the area, but the sing-up and use of their crypto products has been wider than anticipated.
Particularly in these early volatile days, Kudry noted, everyone in cryptocurrency could stand a bit more education, and to keep their current knowledge current. Ben wants to give them an easy place to do that while they are buying and selling bitcoin – and an easy partner to work with to help the world’s new bitcoin traders go in with their eyes open.
“At the end of the day, we just want Ben to feel like your friend.”