Watch Abra launch on stage here.
This interview with Abra founder Bill Barhydt was conducted by the team at Job Portraits during preparations for the LAUNCH Festival.
Could you start out by giving us your elevator pitch?
Abra is the world’s first peer-to-peer digital cash money transfer network.
That means consumers can store and manage money directly on their phone — no bank, no financial intermediary — and they can transfer money directly to any phone in the world that also has our app on it. Transfers are peer-to-peer, meaning no middleman touches the funds: no bank, no Western Union, nobody. The effect is that transactions are completely private, completely free, and instantaneous around the globe.
Why this problem — and why are you the right one to solve it?
This is desperately needed by billions of people. Take the case of Haiti, for example. Haiti relies on money transfers for 35% of its GDP, but after the earthquake people couldn’t get money in because, first, the buildings where you picked up money were destroyed, and second, many people lost their ID’s in the quake, so they couldn’t identify themselves to receive funds. Cash had to be helicoptered in — and they still couldn’t get it to the right people.
If Abra had existed at that time, it would’ve solved all of those problems. How? Because you can use Abra from any smart phone, anyone in Haiti could have acted as a virtual ATM to receive money. This is what we call a “teller” in the app. Just like Uber lets you ride in a stranger’s car, an Abra user — just with their phone — can become an ATM.
Why me? I’ve been working in payments for twenty years and I ran the group at Netscape that processed the first credit card transaction on the internet. I built mobile wallets for the last generation of flip phones. And I’m still the chairman of Boom Financial, which is a cross-border mobile banking service for immigrants.
Abra is meant to help the three billion people who aren’t necessarily bankable, but still rely on money transfer services.
The day after LAUNCH, and through the rest of March, what happens in an ideal world?
We’re announcing Abra at LAUNCH, but we won’t open our beta for another two months. We’re doing this because we need to sign up as many tellers as possible, in as many countries as possible, to launch effectively. The analogy, going back to Uber, is that they can’t launch a new city until they have enough drivers in that city. Tellers are our drivers. And we need to do this in 100 countries… though that probably won’t all happen in May.
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