How a startup is driving Bitcoin adoption with selfies in the Philippines


Satoshi Citadel Industries, an umbrella company in the Philippines for various Bitcoin-based ventures, has launched its quirkiest product to date: Bitstars.

Users upload selfies to the Bitstars site, which can then be “liked” by other members of the community. The selfie with the most “likes” at the end of the day receives a Bitcoin prize equivalent to PhP500 or more. Hence, the Bitstars tagline is “may the best selfie win!”


Does this concept sound strange? If this were any other place in the world, it very well might be. But this is the Philippines, which is often hailed as both the “selfie capital of the world” as well as the “social media capital of the world.” To put it simply, Filipinos like taking pictures, and they like sharing them even more.

“The primary mission of Bitstars is to be a fun and engaging way to introduce Bitcoin to an audience of Filipinos that wouldn’t otherwise have heard of cryptocurrency,” explains Luis Buenaventura, the head of product at Satoshi Citadel Industries. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a more apt method for our selfie-centric society.”

Yet even if Filipinos are drawn to the site to share their selfies, Buenaventura understands that they need to be eased into Bitcoin adoption. Most Filipinos may not be familiar with the cryptocurrency, and those that have may be intimidated by the Philippine government’s warning about its use. Accordingly, the Bitstars team takes a delicate approach.

This is evident in how they pitch the site to potential users:

Bitstars is a daily selfie contest website where the photo with the most votes at the end of each day receives a prize.

“We try not to emphasize the part that Bitcoin plays in the overall contest, as that would be a barrier to entry for a lot of people,” Buenaventura reasons. “We’d rather that they tried the site, had some fun, and then be slowly introduced into the Bitcoin world as they start receiving cash prizes or tips.”

See: The state of Bitcoin in Southeast Asia

A culture of tipping

As Buenaventura mentions, users can tip their peers in Bitcoin to show appreciation for one of their photos. This tipping concept was the original model for Bitstars as SCI CEO Nick Galan initially conceived it – the daily contest was only added in later to ensure a steady stream of Bitcoin.

So between the two – prizes and tips – which is distributing more Bitcoin to the Bitstars community? The answer is important because it points to how the community is growing. If prizes comprise most of the Bitcoin spread through the site, it shows that Bitstars still needs to take a top-down approach to drive its adoption. On the other hand, if tips comprise most of the Bitcoin spread through the site, it shows that the community is really taking on a life of its own, as Bitstars users become Bitcoin converts.

As of this writing, the 700 users on the site have uploaded more than 5,000 selfies. These photos have earned 17.7 million satoshis (there are 100,000,000 satoshis in one bitcoin) in daily prizes and almost double that in tips at 32.3 million satoshis. These numbers suggest that while Bitcoin adoption cannot be completely sustained through tipping alone, users are beginning to embrace the cryptocurrency for what it ultimately is: a way to give and receive value – in other words, money.

The fact that the Bitstars team still has to fund their daily prizes poses a challenge. “Since we’re sponsoring all of the prizes for this initially, we have to strike a balance between offering compelling prizes and making sure the contest is sustainable,” Buenaventura reveals. “In a perfect world, the user base and available prize pool would grow together in lock-step, but it rarely ever works out as cleanly as that.”

Would you like a GoPro with that selfie?

To make Bitstars sustainable, the team eventually wants to host sponsored contests, where a company would provide its product as a prize. For example, GoPro could sponsor an “adventurous selfies week” in which the daily prize would be one of their mountable cameras.

Of course, to attract international and local brands, Bitstars needs enough users to make advertising through a sponsored contest worthwhile. “Getting the critical mass of users that we need to keep the contests exciting is our single biggest focus right now,” Buenaventura says. “We’d love to mix things up on a regular basis by having some days where the prizes are physical items instead of just straight Bitcoin. On June 11th, we got to try this out by giving away two tickets to the Chainsmokers concert in Cebu City as our prize for that day. They had a single entitled ‘#Selfie’ so the marketing tie-up was a total no-brainer, and the winner got to see them live for free.”

Notice that Buenaventura says nothing about monetizing off those users or brands. That’s the advantage of Satoshi Citadel Industries – they can use Bitstars to spearhead Bitcoin adoption in the Philippines, all without needing to make a cent. Doing so, after all, will create a larger pool of potential customers for SCI’s less sexy, but more profitable ventures. These include the Bitcoin payment platform Bitmarket, which is already getting good traction, and the recently launched Rebit, which allows Filipinos working overseas to more easily send money to their relatives in the Philippines.

Even if Bitstars is meant to be a fun, localized way to bring more Filipinos into the fold of Satoshi Citadel Industry’s other companies, it’s important to remember why the team behind SCI – Jardine Gerodias, Nick Galan, Miguel Cuneta, John Bailon, and Luis Buenaventura – dedicates so much time to it in the first place: they are Bitcoin believers. They see how the cryptocurrency can change so much of what we assume to be unchangeable. It can apply to everything from how we buy food at a restaurant to how we remit money to our loved ones.

Even Bitstars, much to my surprise, is an attempt to challenge conventions, as Buenaventura notes:

Bitstars is a small first step in a sea change in online publishing that Bitcoin silently enables: instant, friction-less microtransactions for user-generated content. Imagine if you could write a travelog or upload a cooking video or create a funny web comic strip, and anyone who liked your work could instantly tip you 20 pesos with little or no transaction fee. It would change the way content creators generate revenue, and go a long way towards reducing the need for so much advertising on the internet. Hey, if it works for selfies, it’ll work for everything.

Editing by Paul Bischoff
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