Azteco: Offering Bitcoin Vouchers That Work Like Gift Cards And Mobile Phone Top-Ups

By Amit Chowdhry • Jan 17, 2024

Azteco is a consumer Bitcoin platform that offers Bitcoin vouchers for global financial transactions. Pulse 2.0 interviewed Azteco CEO and founder Alexander “Akin” Fernandez to learn more about the company.

Alexander “Akin” Fernandez’s Background

Fernandez is a software developer and writer with a long-term, deep interest in matters related to Libertarianism and Austrian Economics. Fernandez said:

“I’ve been writing software since the late 1980s and ran a renowned publishing company for over a decade.”

Formation Of Azteco

How did the idea for the Azteco come together? Fernandez shared:

“I’ve always been interested in how new technology can be used to improve the lives of everyday people. I’ve also always been interested in the concept of ‘fiat money’ and the challenges faced by the 1.7 billion adults in the world who are unbanked, operating outside the traditional financial system.”

“In 2012, I was living in the UK and found myself unexpectedly unbanked overnight. You have to be in that situation yourself to understand the day-to-day challenges of spending, saving, or sending money without a bank account–and of course, buying anything online is practically impossible.”

“At the same time, I was working on bitcoin and had an “aha” moment that bitcoin could solve many of the challenges faced by the unbanked. All we needed to do was to find an easy way for everyday people to get and use Bitcoin in small amounts. I had to come up with a solution that was as easy as buying a mobile phone top-up voucher or a gift card.”

“And that’s when the idea for Azteco bitcoin vouchers came along.”

Favorite Memory

What has been your favorite memory working for Azteco so far? Fernandez reflected:

“In 2014, we opened a pop-up shop in central London to test Azteco Bitcoin vouchers with the public. We knew that our technology worked in the abstract, but we needed to know if we’d built something that people would understand and want to use.”

“The first version of Azteco Bitcoin vouchers was a little rough and needed some polish. But people got the idea instantly. They understood that they could buy an Azteco voucher for a few pounds and then redeem that voucher for Bitcoin in less than a minute. Even people who had never used Bitcoin before got the idea and wanted to buy a voucher.”

Core Products

What are the company’s core products and features? Fernandez explained:

“We have one product, which is the Azteco Bitcoin Voucher. This is a voucher identical in form and function to the top-up vouchers used by billions of people globally to add airtime or data to their mobile phones. Most people do not have a mobile phone account that is paid for in arrears; they pay in advance using a top-up voucher.”

This is a photo of a ‘Spaza’ store in South Africa, where people can buy Vodacom top-up vouchers. Similar stores where vouchers from other networks can be purchased are all over South Africa and the third world.”
“The primary feature of Azteco is the ability to buy very small amounts of Bitcoin so that users can save, send, and spend it all over the world. There are over a billion adults in the world who have a smartphone but don’t have a bank account, so they’re not able to send and receive money at will or save it. Bitcoin lets people save, spend, and send s using phones they already have and a process –’Topping Up’ –that they already understand.”

Challenges Faced

Have you faced any challenges in your sector of work recently? Fernandez acknowledged:

“Customer demand for Azteco Bitcoin Vouchers continues to grow exponentially. For example, we sold over 200% more vouchers in Q3 2023 than we did in Q2 2022.”

“The bottleneck we face is distribution. You can buy an Azteco Bitcoin voucher today in over 190 countries from an online retailer like G2A, Kinguin, Eneba, or OffGamers. But we want to make them available in supermarkets and convenience stores–the same places where people can buy mobile phone top-up vouchers. We also want people to be able to buy an Azteco voucher using cash.”

“Unfortunately, many retailers today don’t really understand Bitcoin vouchers. It appears to be a new category for them, even though it isn’t, and they’re not sure if their customers will buy them. Once they see one of their competitors selling lots of Azteco vouchers, however, they usually change their mind!”

“Also, it’s worth noting that most bitcoin advocates in the past have talked about bitcoin as an asset or an investment. That’s created uncertainty and distrust amongst everyday people. Azteco’s mission now is to show how Bitcoin can be used for everyday spending, saving, and sending–all the little bits of daily life.”

Evolution Of Azteco’s Technology

How has Azteco’s technology evolved since launching? Fernandez noted:

“The underlying software that powers Azteco has improved in lots of ways that are not obvious to users, but we’re more excited about the visible improvements that we’ve made to the customer experience.”

“For example, we launched a new brand identity and web experience in September. We didn’t do this just because we wanted a new logo or a new website; we did this because we fundamentally wanted to change how people think about Bitcoin and how it can be used in their everyday lives.”

“At Azteco, we believe that technology is important, but it’s never as important as the customer experience or the real-world problems that we solve for people. The true measure of a successful technology is that it changes the lives of millions of people for the better.”

Significant Milestones

What have been some of the company’s most significant milestones? Fernandez cited:

“1.) Our field test in Central London, providing proof of concept for an Azteco bitcoin voucher.

2.) Paul Ferguson, 6-year Product Manager at Google, quitting them to join Azteco.

3.) David Bailey, 11-year Apple Go-to-Market executive joining the team.

4.) Raising $6,000,000 from investors, including Jack Dorsey of Twitter/Block.

5.) The launch of our radical, ground-breaking new “Consumer Bitcoin” website experience.

6.) Selling over 200% more bitcoin vouchers in Q3 2023 than we did in Q3 2022.”

Customer Success Stories

After asking Fernandez about customer success stories, he highlighted:

“Absolutely. We have several great examples on our website about how everyday people use Bitcoin instead of a bank account for their everyday spending and saving and for supporting their friends and family in other parts of the world.”

Total Addressable Market

What total addressable market (TAM) size is the company pursuing? Fernandez assessed:

“There are over 1 billion adults in the world who have a smartphone but don’t have a bank account. These are immediate candidates for Bitcoin, but there are also many more opportunities.”

“There are the traditionally banked who want a better, more seamless experience spending online, and there are online retailers who want to accept payment without the risk of chargebacks. International remittances (via companies like Western Union, Rio, MoneyGram) are also all set to be totally disrupted by bitcoin.”

Differentiation From The Competition

What differentiates the company from its competition? Fernandez affirmed:

“We are committed to helping change the lives of millions of people for the better. Bitcoin is just a system that enables us to do that effectively. Our understanding of Bitcoin is correct and profoundly and fundamentally different from that of the people who have tried to copy us or that of others looking to serve the Bitcoin market. We are committed to helping everyday people leverage what we call “Consumer Bitcoin” to make their daily lives easier.”

Additional Thoughts

Any other topics you would like to discuss? Fernandez concluded:

“Please read this article I wrote.”