My son is 7 and he earns $10 a week for doing his chores. He loves putting each weathered
bill in his cute Velcro X-Men wallet. I wanted to teach him about money and innovation, so what could be more fun for a kid than trying out a highly volatile, quasi-legal, experimental currency system?
I told him: “Kevin,” (not his real name, his real name is Sam), ”To teach you about technology, I’m going to pay you your allowance in Bitcoins instead of dollars.”
“Wow. Bitcoins sound cool. Are they like gold coins or something?”
“No. They are digital currency based on crypto-hash tags that are completely anonymous and digital.”
“Can I put them in my wallet?”
“Not exactly. They only exist in computers on hard drives, you’ll see, it’ll be fun.”
So we sat down at the computer to get some Bitcoins.
It only took me about 3 hours of failed attempts until I landed on a site called Bitstamp where I could wire money into an account and buy Bitcoins. My son had wandered off so I called him over.
“Kevin, come over here. The good news is that you now have 0.123 bitcoins. The bad news is that in the time it took to get them, their value has gone down, so your $10 is now worth about $8.”
Before my son could respond, we heard the happy sound of the ice cream truck’s bell ringing from the street. He ran outside to say hi to the driver and picked out an ice cream sandwich (his favorite).
“Can I pay you in bitcoins?” He asked eagerly. “They are a new special kind of money that my dad gave me.”
“I’m sorry son, I don’t know what those are, we just take dollars. I’m going to have to ask for that ice cream sandwich back.”
The look on my son’s face was heart-breaking, like that of a young child whose ice cream had been taken away. I’ve told you many times on this blog that entrepreneurs need to be thick-skinned, even cold-hearted, to persevere. This was one of those moments.
“This sucks Dad,” my son said, his face growing darker.”Now I know why Mom hates you and goes on trips alone with your business partner.”
“Look Kevin, being an innovator means working through some tough stuff. Let’s try to go to a bigger store to spend your bitcoins.”
Strange Goings-on at Target
So we headed to Target. They are known for being a retail innovator and probably have an advanced POS/commerce system. My Son picked out a Lego set.We went up to the cashier to ring things up and I asked if they accepted bitcoins.
“Target does not accept those, I don’t know what you are talking about.”
My son’s face grew sad again, but then the cashier lowered her voice and leaned forward. “But we have an employee named Dex in Aisle 3 who is a bit of an anarchist hacker, he might be able to help you.”
Intrigued, we made our way over to Aisle 3, where a young employee with hair falling over his eyes was busy texting.
“We were interested in buying something with Bitcoins, do you know anything about that?
The guy looked up from his Snapchat, “Follow me.”
He took us through a door in the back of the store, and into a cramped closet-like area. He took out his phone and plugged in some kind of adapter device.
“This baby provides 256 key encryption that even the NSA can’t hack and it hops across cellular networks to avoid detection.” He beamed with pride. “This is the same technique used by the Somali branch of Al Queda.”
He had me log into my bitcoin account on my phone and showed me how to attached the right keys and send them to his account to transfer the money. He looked at his phone to confirm the receipt.
“Here you go.” He handed my son the lego box, tearing off the bar code sticker. “Just hold this under your coat as you walk out.”
I wondered if he had the authority to sell this merchandise on behalf of Target, but figured that he was probably part of some cutting edge “e-Labs” team and could go around the usual systems.
On our way home, I was proud about how things had turned out.
“See Kevin,” I said. “Wasn’t it cool how we used our digital money to buy that?
“Why did we have to go to that closet?” he asked. Kids are so funny.
As we pulled up to the house, I noticed 2 black sedans and an SUV parked in front of it. A bunch of guys in windbreakers with the big yellow “FBI” on them stood in front of the door and blocked our way. One of them grabbed my son and took the Lego box from Target out of his hands.
“Yup, looks like we got our guy,” he said. They shoved me to ground and one put his foot on the side of my face while they started questioning my son.
The details of what happened next aren’t really relevant. Anyway, that was my experience using bitcoins for a child’s allowance.
To some extent, it appears that they may not be ready for mainstream use, but the promise is clear. And I think the experience was great for my son.
I have more thoughts about how investment opportunities in the bitcoin ecosystem, but I need to run to go pick up my son from the regional FBI office in Denver, I think they should be done with their questioning by now.