One year ago, Adam O'Brien started reading and researching the digital currency bitcoin. Now, the 21-year-old is the founder of Bitcoin Solutions, an Edmonton-based company that recently brought Saskatchewan's first bitcoin ATM to Saskatoon.
"I really saw an opportunity to make it understandable and accessible," O'Brien said. "The accessibility of bitcoin was not where I wanted it to be or what I was searching for as a consumer."
The ATM machine, located at 721 Broadway Ave. in the middle of Calories restaurant, exchanges Canadian dollars for bitcoins and bitcoins for cash. This feature makes it one of western Canada's first two-way bitcoin ATMs, according to O'Brien.
O'Brien said his company's bitcoin exchange model is secure and highly user-friendly.
"If you know absolutely nothing about bitcoin, our machine is open to brand new users," O'Brien explained. "We actually generate a wallet right here for you instantly, for you then to be able to take home and import."
In February, the digital currency took a major blow when a popular bitcoin exchange, Mt.Gox, went bust after swirling allegations of mass fraudulent activity after $370 million worth of bitcoins went missing, driving the price of the currency down.
However, O'Brien said people can avoid losing their money to the intangible bitcoin, as long as they do their homework and stay in control of their own bitcoins with a digital wallet — akin to a cloud storage-style online space crossed with an email account.
"It is really important for consumers to understand that you have to hold your own bitcoin," O'Brien said. "I use this analogy time and time again. If I had an envelope with $100,000 cash and I gave it to anyone on the street and said, 'Hey, hold on to this for a couple days and I'll be back for it next Tuesday', chances are that money is not coming back. Bitcoin gives you the power to hold your own money. So don't take that away from bitcoin."
What can you buy in Saskatoon with bitcoin? O'Brien said Calories restaurant will soon be accepting it as payment for food and drinks. Despite its relative newness, he believes it will one day be a mainstream currency used to buy everything.
"If you look at what email did to post mail, I think bitcoin will do that in comparison to sending money all over the world," O'Brien said.