It wasn’t long since my plane had hit the tarmac on the Blockchain Island. I arrived at my hotel. They had no record of my booking, the taxi had left, and I had to walk to my new lodgings some 10 minutes away. Not that far, you might say. But that’s perhaps because you haven’t dragged a suitcase across Malta’s charming cobbled streets (or swerved by its not-so-charming gaping chasms in the pavement). In the drizzly November rain.
Bobby Lee can be very persuasive
I quickly refreshed at the hotel I eventually found with the aid of Google Maps and then rushed to meet Bobby Lee at the Intercontinental. If you’re not familiar with the name, he’s the co-founder of the first Chinese exchange BTCC, founder and CEO of Ballet hardware cryptocurrency wallet and brother of the charismatic Litecoin founder, Charlie Lee. He also exchanged some heated words with Nouriel Roubini at last month’s CC Forum.
He wasn’t here to swap travel stories though. When I enquired about his journey, he said it was “long” and quickly followed up with “sorry, how long will this take?”
While he didn’t immediately put me at ease, he had a point. If we’re to take Bitcoin to the masses and really make this “permissionless technology” work, there’s a lot to be done. Less idle chat and more action.
That may be why his new hardware wallet Ballet went from a “conception” in January to its sixth iteration and pre-sale sample in under a year. Clearly, when Bobby gets an idea in his head, he’s like a dog with a bone. And before I knew what was happening, I was handing him over 50 euros and he was sending me the corresponding BTC to my new Ballet wallet.
Onboarding the masses
I’ll admit to a little healthy scepticism when it comes to the Ballet. After all, it’s a hardware wallet with no back-up seed. Your private keys are also engraved on the front.
What does this mean? Well, several things. One, it’s a heck of a lot easier to onboard people when they don’t have to go through the “cumbersome and stressful” experience that hardware wallets evoke.
“It makes it really easy for normal people to buy and hold Bitcoin”, he says. “There’s no setup, the address is pre-generated on here, so they just use it. We wanted to create a wallet that was simple to use with no setup at all”. But, to do that, of course, they had to make a trade-off.
Having a Ballet wallet is literally like holding a bar of gold or rare piece of jewellery. Great, if it’s in your hands; lose it and your investment is gone forever. Not exactly a comforting thought.
Bobby says, “It’s not like a credit or debit card. If you were to lose it, sorry, it’s like a piece of gold, do not lose it”, he reiterates for emphasis, “don’t lose it”.
Bitcoin for everyday people
“If you want backup there are many other solutions out there”, he continues, “such as Coinbase or one of the hardware wallets you mentioned [Ledger and Trezor]. Ballet is a bare instrument, with this, you can give a gift”.
I stop him at that moment and ask whether the fact that he called it a “gift” meant that it was for small-time holders, sort of like a gift card. “It’s for everyone”, he replies.
So, then, would Bobby Lee keep all his bitcoin on it?
Not on your life.
“I don’t,” he admits, “but I am a very advanced user so I keep my personal coins in different places, different devices, different technologies. If you have $1,000 of cryptocurrency, you can keep it here,” he points to the Ballet wallet. “If you have $1 million, you’re probably an advanced user and have different solutions”.
Everything about Ballet is designed to easily onboard new users – including its name. To convey “elegance, simplicity, and to be female-friendly”.
Bobby says that to attract a wider audience, they decided to choose that name, “all the names if you look at the conference rooms, all very geeky, male-dominated tech names, so we wanted something approachable”.
Give me 50 euros and I will show you how this works
Like any great salesman, Bobby understands the psychology of selling well (for as much as he studied computer science and has always worked in tech). He first gifted me the wallet. He then asked me for cash to purchase the coin of my choice – BTC obviously – although you can store multiple coins on this wallet.
I didn’t want to look cheap in front of the Chinese millionaire who had been swapping stories with (and gifting Ballets to) Bruce Willis days before, so I said I’d buy 50 euros’ worth.
What did Bobby think of the American actor, by the way? “He’s not really into Bitcoin”, he laughs. I asked if he managed to convince him. “No”, he sighed and chortled, “he said I should talk to his wife”.
We went through the process of sending and receiving BTC from one Ballet wallet to another. It’s extremely simple and exceptionally fast–near-instant, in fact.
You don’t have to wait for blockchain confirmation times either, but can immediately start to convert, send, or use your digital assets. Elegant and graceful, just as the name. And a whole lot easier than plugging in your Trezor.
Chinese regulation and the development of the space
We speak a little more about the enthusiasm for blockchain coming out of China and whether it’s bullish for the space or not.
“I am a purist when it comes to blockchain”, he says. “I think blockchain is only blockchain if it’s a decentralised public blockchain. Anything that’s private or controlled really isn’t a blockchain”.
So, China’s advances aren’t bullish for the industry then? He shakes his head, “that’s not what I’m saying”.
He believes that having a digital RMB will be good by making its movement much easier, without third party entities or bank accounts. This will also, he believes, eventually bring eyes onto Bitcoin. It will get people used to using the technology and make it easier to buy Bitcoin with a digital RMB.
Ballet cryptocurrency wallet – the takeaway
Honestly, I love Ballet for what it’s trying to achieve and I think Bobby is attempting to counter a serious issue. But, he himself more or less called it a gift card, and that’s a pretty good description of it.
You would be extremely unwise to hold all your crypto in a wallet that you can never regain access to or that has your private keys stamped on the front.
It’s not an oversight, though. I think Bobby Lee sees Ballet as a sort of a ‘gateway drug’ to the world of Bitcoin – and a stepping stone to people finding out about different cold storage options.
Just like the dance, Ballet may not be to everyone’s taste. But if you’re the sort of person who always knows exactly where your belongings are and you’re interested in buying crypto, it could be a good place to start.