Private Internet Access recently interviewed Shiva Sitamraju, CEO of Blockonomics. We talked about their direct to wallet payment solution, the future of crypto, and what Decentralization really means.
Private Internet Access: What motivated you to start Blockonomics?
Shiva Sitamraju: My main motivation to start Blockonomics was first to solve my own problem of tracking bitcoin payments in multiple wallets. Slowly we added different features like blockexplorer and merchant payment support. It grew into an attempt to empower merchants and bitcoin holders to be able to track and process payments and transactions in a safe, decentralized, and private way without having third parties touching their bitcoin. When we started way back in 2014, I got lots of support and feedback from the bitcointalk community and kept adjusting our product based on that feedback.
PIA: What do you love about working with cryptocurrency?
SS: That it can empower people. Too many people focus on prices and whether it rises and falls, but they ignore how Bitcoin can help people improve their livelihood. One of our customers uses us to raise money for his charity in South Africa, one woman who is able to sell her art for Bitcoin, people all over are able to reach a larger audience easily thanks to Bitcoin.
PIA: Can you tell me about Blockonomics and its decentralized and permissionless payment solution?
SS: Our philosophy is centered around always being non custodial and removing the barriers to bitcoin adoption. To use any of our services, the only thing required is an email address. We have no geographical/other restrictions. We have various plugins/integrations for e-commerce platforms like WHMCS, Prestashop, WHMCS and Wix. We also have payment buttons/links if you just want to create an easy page to sell a good, and even more in depth things like our API if you are a developer. We are direct to wallet, which means we don’t touch the Bitcoin. So a customer comes to one of our merchants and wants to buy a product. They are given a QR code/address that is directly owned by the merchant and told how much Bitcoin they have to pay. It goes straight to the merchant’s wallet, and the order can continue. A lot of our competitors require Bitcoin to go to a custodial wallet first, but we don’t believe that contributes to the spirit of Bitcoin.
PIA: What is your flagship product?
SS: Our flagship product is our direct to wallet payment solution. Merchants accept bitcoin on their ecommerce stores and sales go directly from customer to the merchant’s wallet. Using the wallet xpub we can generate addresses from the merchant’s wallet without compromising security/holding custody of merchant funds. The merchant can use their existing bitcoin wallet like blockchain/trezor/ledger and keep using Blockonomics.
PIA: Is Blockonomics right for everyone? Who is your ideal user base?
SS: Well nothing is perfect for everyone of course! If you don’t want anything to do with Bitcoin then obviously we don’t have something for you. However, we strive to make our solutions accessible to as many as possible. If you’re a beginner to Bitcoin we have really simple set ups, and lots of tutorials on how it runs. But if you are a developer who wants a unique setup then we have the API and the Self-Hosted wallet service that requires more knowledge but is more powerful in what it can do.
PIA: How has Blockonomics continued to grow in popularity over the past few years, especially during the pandemic that you’re now the most rated and used Bitcoin WHMCS plugin?
SS: We are humbled and really grateful to the WHMCS community for using and supporting Blockonomics. Continued feedback from them over the year has helped us to further improve the plugin. The key differentiator between our plugin and others is that complete checkout happens within the merchant website(without going to an external site like paypal.com/coinbase.com). Also complete order/sales data of webhosting provider stays within their system and nothing gets submitted to our server. Our focus has always been on quality of UI/privacy rather than adding more coins. The pandemic helped us because ecommerce definitely grew, and Bitcoin saw some very strong months as well that played a role. We’re emerging from the pandemic in a good position and we’re ready to grow.
PIA: How do you see cryptocurrency evolving in the near future?
SS: That’s a hard question, I know how I’d like it to evolve, but whether it will go that path I don’t know. I think more people need to recognize the actual purpose of Bitcoin and other crypto, as I mentioned above. It’s not about price, it’s about utility. If people can recognize the utility of Bitcoin and not listen to the very loud investors then Bitcoin will evolve to be a strong currency alongside fiat that emphasizes ease of use and privacy/security.
PIA: Online privacy is such a hot-button topic, especially when it comes to cryptocurrency, do individuals and companies need a good VPN to protect their data and privacy?
SS: There has been a recent shift towards privacy and data ownership. Organizations are realizing that privacy/decentralization on various levels of IT infrastructure is necessary to gain the necessary benefits. For example a company is accepting bitcoin, but if their shop is hosted on Shopify, they may lose most of the privacy benefits of accepting BTC. Shops are moving to WordPress, messaging to Mattermost, blogging to Ghost and so on. VPNs are an integral part of this stack and are a must for any privacy aware organization/individual. Previously VPNs were considered geeky and required multiple linux commands/complex installation to run. Nowadays a simple chrome extension can get you started in minutes which is awesome! As you say it all goes hand in hand, privacy of money and privacy of the internet.
PIA: Is there anything else you’d like to add about privacy and decentralization?
SS: Talk about internet privacy is gaining momentum and more people are now aware that the free email/web services are free at the cost of their private data. Decentralization has become a buzz word too but is rarely understood fully by lots of people. A recent experiment by signal co-founder Moxie Marlinspike revealed that most dApps out are in fact centralized. In fact his self created NFT was delisted by opensea. His NFT no longer appeared on any crypto wallet/device. He rightly questioned how this is possible in the decentralized web3?
Moxie also advocated that centralized infrastructure can provide better privacy, which was nicely rebutted in a blog post by former bitcoincore developer – Mike Hearn. Decentralization of internet stack is desirable, however there are practical challenges in achieving this. Obvious ones are the economics in monetization and sustaining a completely decentralized entity and unwillingness of users to run servers. In the long term it is important to educate more about privacy/decentralization so that people are well informed of the implication of their choices.