Bitrefill: Turning Digital Money into Useable Phone Credit

Stockholm Distro Dojo is well under way, and we’re working with a lot of very exciting companies. But we want the world to know about them as well. As such, we’d like to introduce the first of our Dojo participants: Bitrefill.

We sat down with Founder and CEO Sergej Kotliar to learn a bit more about Bitrefill and the amazing work they’re doing!

Part of the Bitrefill team: (L to R) Sergej, Samuel, and Rémi!

500: What is Bitrefill, and what do you do?

SK: Bitrefill takes the world’s largest digital currency, a money-like entity used daily by 4 billion people worldwide – that is prepaid phone credits – and connects it to the internet of money.

That’s the fancy pitch version of saying that we refill prepaid phones in exchange for bitcoin!

500: How did the idea first come about?

SK: It was an experiment, something I originally hacked together during my spare time, to “try and do a project with bitcoin”. After orders started coming in from far-away countries like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Ghana I realized that this prepaid phone thing maybe isn’t as niche as I’d originally thought.

500: What made you apply for the Dojo, and what’s the main take away from the journey so far?

SK: The main takeaway has been that there’s no magic, no shortcuts, just trying to figure out what changes will matter, and doing them. That, and all of the really specific and actionable advice we’ve been getting, the advisors really make the effort to get to know your business and offer specific help. They help you think about the right questions and sort of guide you in the right direction so you can focus on just running as fast as you can for a little while.

500: As a founder, what has been your most exciting moment?

Bitrefill Founder and CEO Sergej Kotliar
Bitrefill Founder and CEO Sergej Kotliar

SK: There are exciting moments every day, both big and small, both positive and negative. The biggest is getting feedback from people using something you built, on the other side of the world, in countries you’ve never been to, and having them express how much that thing means to them. That never gets old.

That and it’s always exciting to have to adapt to change. Like when we had a week to move to Silicon Valley. Or getting in to the Dojo with all these companies that are bigger than us.

500: What has been your biggest challenge so far, and how did you handle it?

I’d say the biggest challenge has been fundraising and convincing rich Westerners that will never use your product that there are billions of people out there that will. It’s an ongoing challenge, and it’s far harder than anyone ever says it will be, especially when it doesn’t scratch an itch this particular investor has.

I can’t say we’ve fully “handled it” yet, but the strategy has been to build the company in a way so that “if all else fails, the company will still survive”. So find ways of making money and surviving on the little money you make. Ironically the less you need money the more investors seem willing to invest.

500: Any advice for any aspiring entrepreneurs that are reading?

Look, there’s so much bullshit out there. Don’t get caught in it. So much fairytales, half-truths and contradictory advice thrown at you at conferences, in blog posts or in tech press. Your task as a founder is to figure out what to do in a world where there are no clear answers. If there were clear answers it wouldn’t be entrepreneurship – by definition. This is why it can’t be taught in school – what worked for Zuckerberg may or may not have worked for Bezos, may or may not work for you. So stick to what you already know, and the people you trust and respect and expand your understanding of the world by constantly anchoring new knowledge to that. And always remember that advice you read from some dude is just advice from some dude (who btw is most likely trying to sell you something). And yes that includes advice given by me. I’m not successful yet and unless you know me really well, you can’t judge whether my advice is any good. See how it works?

500: Finally, give us one fun fact about yourself!

I can say “Would you like to see my stamp collection?” in 20 languages.

Sergej and the Bitrefill team have been an absolute pleasure to work with the last 2 weeks, and we’re extremely excited to see how their company continues to grow! Stay tuned for more company profiles over the next couple days.