Video Interview: Bitrefill CEO Sergej Kotliar on Gift Cards, Privacy and the Lightning Network

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During the 2019 Baltic Honeybadger conference, Bitrefill CEO Sergej Kotliar gave an exclusive video interview for Bitcoin Magazine. His company, which started out as a retailer of phone credit recharge vouchers, is now the Bitcoin community’s go-to place for various gift cards. It is also one of a growing number of bitcoin enterprises that facilitate a lifestyle where anyone can live on their BTC. 

“The motivation was to find the most useful thing that you could do for most people, in order to help them buy stuff with their coins,” said an enthusiastic Kotliar in his first line of the interview. 

However, that statement merely refers to the nascent phase of Bitrefill, when BTC could only purchase phone credit refills. As the CEO recalls, the business really took off after the variety of gift cards it offered started to increase. 

A notable example that Kotliar shared is that of Steam cards, which became very popular in December 2017 after the issuing company Valve stopped accepting bitcoin as a means of payment for its games. The fact that Bitrefill provided a quick and reliable alternative for bitcoiners has been praised by community members and marked the beginning of an upward trend for the company.

We as a company value privacy and wouldn’t want a world where everything is surveilled all the time.

— Sergej Kotliar

Bitrefill offers its gift cards, vouchers and services without requiring any kind of registration, just the way in which a casual shopper would walk into a store and purchase items with a greater degree of discretion from third parties. If you don’t want Google or Microsoft to have access to your payment details, then you can simply buy gift cards for the Play Store or Skype with your BTC. Likewise, you can book hotels, max out on video game currencies, renew subscriptions and pay for flights in a confidential and elegant way.

Read about reporter Colin Harper’s experience with Bitrefill as he attempted to survive on bitcoin in San Francisco for a week in February 2019. 

Kotliar’s vision for Bitrefill involves privacy as a fundamental human right and a circular economy where Satoshi’s deflationary currency gets traded back and forth for goods and services. 

Lightning is the most promising technology to do small value transactions, so we went all-in as soon as it became possible.

— Sergej Kotliar

Gift card purchases on Bitrefill can be made for amounts as low as $1, so it makes sense for the company to look for ways to expand the accessibility of its offerings. To that end, Bitrefill now runs two of the biggest Lightning nodes (Bitrefill.com and Bitrefill Thor), with a cumulated capacity of 45.3 BTC (about 5.4 percent of the entire network’s capacity) and hundreds of open channels. 

In January 2019, Bitrefill also added a Lightning-specific service which allows users to run their own LN channel on a proprietary node. The solution, which they appropriately named Thor, has been upgraded in April 2019 to include “Turbo” speeds and is a great way to send and receive payments on Bitcoin’s second layer without operating the required hardware. Anyone on the go can simply open a channel. According to Kotliar, the service will receive more refinements to facilitate the onboarding process and make it more accessible to a greater number of users.

In the long term, Bitrefill seeks to develop the circular economy and add even more products and services that can be bought with bitcoin, while also expanding on the Lightning infrastructure.