Austin
5:43 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

What's a Bitcoin ATM Doing in a Downtown Austin Bar?

The first cash-dispensing Bitcoin ATM machine in the U.S. launched today, and it’s right here in Austin.

Bitcoin is a form of digital currency that was first developed in 2009; it is a peer-to-peer payment system that operates outside of a central authority or bank. As previously reported by KUT, Bitcoin was created for and traditionally used as a web-based currency, but some are attempting to move the currency offline.

The new Bitcoin ATM represents a big step in the process of trying to brand Bitcoin as a more “mainstream” form of currency.

The Austin ATM is owned by Las Vegas-based Robocoin. CEO and founder Jordan Kelley said the decision to bring their first Bitcoin ATM to Austin was influenced by several factors.

“I think Austin is a phenomenal city with an incredible culture, a really good taste for technology,” Kelley says. “It’s centralized in the United States … we wanted to put this right in the heart of the U.S., and it’s sort of at the 50-yard-line.”

Austin’s South by Southwest Festival also influenced the decision to bring the ATM here.

The Robocoin machine is housed inside downtown Austin’s Handlebar, close to where many of this year’s SXSW events will take place. Robocoin co-founder and chief technology officer John Russell said Handlebar’s proximity to SXSW was one of the most enticing aspects of the establishment to the ATM operators.

Russell and Kelley believe South by Southwest will bring a great deal of business to the Robocoin machine. They will be adding two additional ATM’s around Austin to accommodate the SXSW influx, one in the convention center and another at an undisclosed location.

Robocoin’s first ATM machine launched in Vancouver three months ago. That branch has been incredibly successful according to Kelley who says the ATM averages 50 new customers each day and 1500 new customers each month. Kelley is optimistic that the Austin ATM will perform just as well.

“I think this is going to be a very successful location,” said Kelley.

Prior to Bitcoin ATMs, Bitcoin'ers were restricted to buying, selling, trading and investing in the technology strictly on the Web. Kelley says the buying process could take up to five days. The ATM allows users to instantly buy bitcoins or withdraw cash from the value of their existing coins.

Despite growing efforts to make Bitcoin more mainstream, the technology continues to receive much criticism over the volatile fluctuation in its value. But Kelley said he's  not too concerned about that.

“It’s the natural process of an emerging market,” Kelley says. “Emerging markets are immature and volatile, but as time elapses and as more people use it and as more accessibility grows, the less volatile it becomes, the more price stabilizes, etcetera.”

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that while Bitcoin ATMs are in other U.S. cities, the Austin ATM is the first to dispense cash.