When bitcoin hit $1,000, In Mean realized he made a mistake.
The developer mined “a lot of bitcoin” not long after the cryptocurrency was released in 2009, but he lost all the money he might have gained in a simple mistake: failing to backup the coins.
Now that a growing number of Cambodians are buying into cryptocurrency, the Cambodian developer is building and marketing a local coin aimed at helping new users understand the field and bridge some of the technology knowledge gap that allows newcomers to fall into digital scams.
KHCoin, his newest cryptocurrency, trades for a measly .000000999 btc on coinsmarkets.com, but it’s not meant to be a high-value currency yet, Mean said. At the moment, he’s giving KHCoin to any Cambodian who asks about it.
“Every day, 10 or 20 people message me saying, ‘I want to buy your coin, how much are you selling?’” Mean told me at a Phnom Penh franchise of U.S. cafe chain The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. “And I say ‘I’m not selling, go and get it for free!’”
Mean started researching, compiling, and forking code for cryptocurrency and blockchain technology in 2014, back when the value for bitcoin was $1,000, as he said. The developer — who’s a brother and original business partner to executives of Cambodia’s well-known startups, online shopping platform Little Fashion and media site Khmerload — served as the backend developer for Popular Coin and released his own cryptocurrency, Prosper Coin, which was originally promoted as a cryptocurrency that could be used in online casinos.
In the past year, Mean turned his attention to learning more about blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. He hosts Q&A videos in Khmer on his public Facebook page, and behind the scenes, he’s working with a handful of local developers who he hopes can lead the pack in blockchain technology. And after gaining a pool of donations, in lieu of an initial coin offering, he released KHCoin and a digital wallet, available in the Google Play store.
Picking up speed
Throughout the country, hundreds of new users are trying to tap into the expanding global cryptocurrency market. Dozens of Facebook and Telegram groups have popped up among locals and expatriates, offering crypto news in Khmer and English, plus questions and trade offers from local enthusiasts.
Steve Miller has been mining for bitcoin and learning about cryptocurrency throughout the eight years he’s lived in Phnom Penh, but it’s only last year where the practice started picking up speed among other expatriates and locals.
“I’ve been trying to build a community here forever, but it’s been almost impossible because of the diversity of people that comes through here.”
Miller started his own company in Cambodia, Cryptoasia, as well as a bitcoin-taking restaurant called Coin Cafe out of his apartment in a Phnom Penh alley, in an effort to create a face-to-face community of digital currency traders and enthusiasts.
A handful of restaurants and guesthouses in the country are starting to accept bitcoin, ethereum and other cryptocurrencies, from a Phnom Penh poker clubhouse to a sub sandwich shop in sleepy riverside town Kampot. But few say they’re getting any digital transactions.
Pushback from the national bank
Miller said he became invested in cryptocurrencies because of the underlying philosophy: limiting the number of federal and corporate intermediaries. But most of the people in Cambodia who ask Miller about cryptocurrency want to know how they can make money, hyped by the prevalent investment schemes in the country, he said.
Though the National Bank of Cambodia is exploring blockchain technology, which allows secure digital currency transactions, the body is not willing to trust cryptocurrencies. Director General Chea Serey called the fintech “a new form of fraud” in a conference in November, and later banned initial coin offerings from Cambodia-based currencies.
And late last month, the NBC said it “never allowed the purchase, sale and circulation of any form of cryptocurrencies” after Japanese firm Chaintope said it was developing K-coin with full support from the agency.
The NBC would not respond to requests for comment.
Miller said he understands the NBC’s concerns and hopes people who conduct fraud receive some kind of karmic punishment, but he believes the government’s interest in regulating cryptocurrency defeats the philosophical purpose of the technology.
“A lot of people are losing their money [to cryptocurrencies] now, but that’s the best way to learn you need to do your due diligence,” he said. “The alternative is a lot of people go running to the government and that’s not what we want, we want people to be accountable for their actions.”
Mean said he had not yet met with NBC officials about his own cryptocurrency, but he doesn’t think they will mind because he gives it away for free, he said with a smile.
But until the NBC either allows the practices — or enforces a strict ban — Mean will be developing KHCoin. He is already working with businesses, including his family’s online shopping chain Little Fashion, to set up an e-payment gateway. If the NBC changes heart, Mean could open up cryptocurrency payment gateways for several Cambodian websites “overnight.”
“There is a trend right now, and when you talk about cryptocurrency you talk about the dream that happened when the internet started,” Mean said. “You cannot stop this. It’s a dream that people want, that money is truly money and not something that the government makes us believe anymore.”