Chances are, you’ve heard of bitcoin but probably don’t own any. A small North Carolina startup is hoping to change that.
Charlotte native Alex Adelman, 29, heads a team that’s days away from rolling out its latest project: An application that rewards online shoppers with bitcoin, the digital currency that is exchanged without banks or central authority.
The goal of Lolli, as the app is called, is to make bitcoin more accessible.
Despite bitcoin’s growing popularity and value, “it’s difficult to understand and acquire,” Adelman said.
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Here’s how it works: After Lolli users download its browser extension on any browser, they proceed to checkout with a Lolli retail partner as they would with any typical online purchase. Retailers pay Lolli in cash, then Lolli converts it into bitcoin to send to customers as a small reward for shopping. Customers can store their bitcoin in a virtual wallet without having to add their bank account information.
When it launches publicly Aug. 22, Lolli will be available through about 600 retailers, including Bloomingdales, Walmart, Best Buy and ClassPass.
That way, “everybody can mine bitcoin through shopping,” said Lolli’s co-founder and chief technology officer, Matt Senter, an N.C. State graduate.
Senter and Adelman, both entrepreneurs who say they’ve been “building stuff,” from computer code to video games, for decades, say Lolli benefits the retailers by bringing them young, tech-savvy users. It’s also a way for to educate and introduce retailers to the increasingly popular bitcoin market, too.
“The retailers have been wanting to figure out some kind of cryptocurrency for a while. They realize they get an opportunity to kind of dip their toe in through us. There’s very little for the retailer to do,” Senter said.
Growing in NC
If Adelman’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s made quite a name for himself in the tech community in recent years.
The UNC-Chapel Hill graduate started making his own video games as a 12-year old middle schooler at Holy Trinity in Charlotte. “I didn’t just want to play video games, I wanted to build video games,” said Adelman, who made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list last year.
After college, Adelman met Senter on Google+ and the two worked together to build Cosmic, a “universal shopping cart” that allows retailers to sell their products across devices and customers to buy from multiple sources online in one trip. Cosmic was sold to the media giant PopSugar in 2015, then to Ebates in 2017.
Adelman declined to say how much he and Senter sold Cosmic for. But, Adelman said, “it was a good exit and everybody won.”
In creating Lolli, Adelman and Senter used what they’d learned from Cosmic and Ebates, including the retail contacts and the Ebates rewards model, which works with bitcoin, Adelman said.
Lolli’s name harkens back to another part of Adelman’s past: When he was young, Adelman’s dad would take him and his sister to the bank. It was an errand Adelman hated, but always looked forward to the lollipop at the end. “Bitcoin is the global bank of the future (and) all that’s missing is ‘Lolli,’ ” Adelman said.
With the launch of Lolli, Adelman and Senter are growing their team in the Raleigh-Durham area, where they are based but currently only have three people.
“There’s incredible talent in North Carolina,” Adelman said. “It’s home, and I love the people here.”
Adelman and Senter have said they hope growing the Lolli team in the Triangle will help strengthen the local startup community.
“People want to work in an early-stage company and build something exciting,” Adelman said. “That’s something that’s lacking in the Triangle,” Adelman said.
There was initially pressure from investors to grow Lolli somewhere with a more robust startup community, with a bigger talent pool and more options for investors, such as Silicon Valley, Adelman and Senter say.
Senter, who is 39 and married with three kids, pointed to one big advantage North Carolina has: “Nobody has to live in a one-bedroom closet in Silicon Valley with six other people in order to survive.”