What I’ve Learned Onboarding Merchants In Portugal To Bitcoin
Lessons learned by one expat Bitcoiner living in Portugal, who decided the merchants at her local market needed the Lightning Network.
This is an opinion editorial by Holly Young, a Portuguese resident who operates the Bitcoin Tribe Algarve meetup.
Bitcoin communities are on the rise in the south of Portugal. A number of initiatives are actively seeking to strengthen and increase them, including meetups, study groups, workshops and, recently, a Telegram group connecting merchants who want to sell their organic goods for bitcoin with a client group that wants to buy them.
If you read Captain Sidd’s recent article “Homesteader Conversations: Feeding Your Family And Building A Bitcoin Community In Southern Portugal,” then you’ll already be familiar with the Monchique market, where the interviewed homesteader sells her wares. On my visit there, some while ago, it struck me that bitcoin would be the perfect currency for the peer-to-peer trade that happens there. I resolved then and there to do my level best to orange pill the merchants and to use that experience as a test case for rolling out Bitcoin education more broadly in the area.
The market sprung up during COVID-19 loc downs when the rules in law-abiding Portugal were particularly strict: masks in public places, no gatherings of people, so on and so forth.
The freedom-loving expat community of the area was horrified — and non-compliant. For the people who hosted the market, the merchants and the visitors, attending felt like asserting a basic right: the right to trade. Some colorful exchanges between the market organizers and the local police ensued, but the market won out. Of course, cash is king in such a setting, so having plenty of change in your pocket was a must for merchants and shoppers alike.
The commodities available in the market are largely edible, including mountain honey, mushrooms, tinctures, meat and eggs, but shoppers can also peruse clothes, handmade jewelry, biochar stoves, candles and bronze household items. I’d hazard a guess that most transactions in the market were for under 20 euros — five here for a pot of delicious honey, four there to have your child’s face painted or to buy them a couple of colored bracelets.
The Lightning Network payment layer lends itself perfectly to transactions of this size. I was excited to drop a message in the Telegram group for merchants, inviting them to a free educational workshop on how to make and accept Lightning payments for goods and services sold in the market and by local, small businesses. The target group was merchants who are in a position to accumulate bitcoin on their balance sheets as a private person would use a savings account.
“Spammer,” was the succinct accusation leveled at me by one member of the group. In my idealism I had rather hoped that my offer would be embraced — I was a bit unprepared for the occasionally-vitriolic responses it in fact engendered. In a group of over 1,000 members, only a handful responded at all. Of those, about half were suspicious, negative, accusing me of promoting a Ponzi scheme or profiteering. Happily, the other half wrote to say that they would like to join and showed a genuine interest. A few local Bitcoiners messaged me privately to say that they appreciated the initiative.
We are, as the famous saying goes, so early.
In the end, a few people, initially about 12, signed up: a mixture of merchants and local small business owners and a lovely couple visiting from Eastern Europe and looking at Portugal as a possible location to emigrate to.
We held the workshop in Monchique, a mountain town in the Algarve region and the location of the now-famous market. A local café in the central square, Velochique (which not only serves excellent coffee and lunches but also rents out bicycles to the more adventure-minded visitors — not yet accepting bitcoin, but we’re hopeful for the future) generously hosted us.
The best-laid plans, as the saying goes. In the end, none of the market traders themselves came — instead, our audience was all small businesses from the area and some international visitors. Since then, however, several of the merchants from the market have reached out to request a private sit down so that we can go through the same material. I’m very happy to oblige and will be carrying out this follow up in the coming days and weeks.
I’d thought long and hard about how to introduce Bitcoin. In the end, I settled on talking briefly about bitcoin as a value proposition, as opposed to our inflating fiat currency. This was a point which especially resonated with our Eastern European guests, who reported that they had seen inflation of 25% for food over the last 12 months.
We moved on to discuss the problems faced by merchants and small businesses. In the first place, eliminating credit card fees was definitely popular. Paying Mastercard a part of the value for the beautiful fruits and vegetables we purchase at the market seems deeply illogical to both the buyer and the vendor. Secondly, and not insignificant to a cash economy, came the need for correct change, quite a source of stress at the market itself.
For me personally, the possibility of hooking the vendors up with the Bitcoin community and the Bitcoin community with people producing goods of genuine value is a key driver in organizing events of this kind. That interface will be an important aspect in the future for the success of a Bitcoin community. This translates neatly for vendors, who are keen to access a new client group. This was the last content point we covered in the workshop before a demonstration of using Lightning.
I was assisted in this by a family member and I was delighted to have his support. A technical expert, he had informed me ahead of time about how useful he found coinos.io to be and we had explored its potential together. He gave a brief explanation of what a wallet is and how easy Coinos is to use. Participants were particularly impressed that on Coinos, it’s possible to add a profile picture — a feature not yet available on other Lightning wallets like Blue Wallet, and one which is nice for marketing for small businesses.
Once everyone had made a Coinos account (everyone was blown away by how easy this was and how little personal information they were required to divulge to do so — no address or date of birth required, no proof of residence either) and in just a few minutes we were able to transact. I passed one euro from my wallet to the neighbor on my left, who had made me an invoice. We passed the euro all the way around the table so that everyone present had the experience of creating and paying a Lightning invoice. One participant was keen to know how to transact with customers in other countries, so we also practiced sending the invoice via Telegram. In the future, we’ll be teaching participants to sweep their sats from the custody of Coinos into a cold-storage device.
Everyone present was very impressed with how quick and easy it was to transact — it seems that the expectation before the event had been that the explanation of both Bitcoin and Lightning would be technical and difficult to understand. Two small business owners committed to accepting bitcoin then and there.
I’d decided ahead of the event to cap the number of attendees at 10, as experience has taught me that more than that makes for a less-interactive experience. Several people decided at the last minute that they couldn’t attend, so some follow-up events are an absolute must. In the near future, I’ll be helping various market merchants who make gorgeous scented candles, natural cosmetic products good enough to rival top cosmetic brands (and at a quarter of the price!), crocheted blankets, clothes and accessories, leather goods and organic fruit all to accept payments on the Lightning Network.
Following the workshop, there has been quite some interest from nearby villages with local farmer’s markets, so we are now happily browsing locations for our next ones. More events are planned for February and March.
Since the workshop, I have had the pleasure of joining an international group of Bitcoiners all dedicated to promoting Bitcoin adoption through education about the Lightning payment network. I don’t believe much in predictions for the future, as life has a way of coming at you from left field, but I’d cautiously dare to wager that 2023 will be the year of widespread Lighting adoption as more and more of us devote time and energy to helping it along its natural path to success.
This is a guest post by Holly Young. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.