Change-to-Bitcoin Startup Lawnmower Aims for Mainstream

You’ll have to decide for yourself if new digital currency startup Lawnmover’s unusual name matches its business model. CEO Pieter Gorsira has no doubts.

“There’s a metaphor to it,” CEO Pieter Gorsira says of the name that at first glance is more reminiscent of a “honey-do” list than a technology company.

The concept is apparently clear enough to win Boost VC backing. But can it earn the wide appeal that Gorsira envisions? See if you buy the metaphor.

“Working backwards, it’s like we’re running the lawnmower over the grass and we’re clipping off a little bit of change. So, as you go along, we slice all these little blades of grass and collect change from these transactions,” Gorsira continued.

I get the parallel between collecting loose change and bagging grass clippings. But that’s where the metaphor may break down. I’m used to putting change in rolls and taking them to the bank. However, if you bag grass clippings, they normally go out with the trash. Does anyone who uses clippings for compost bag them first?

Lawnmower’s straightforward explanation makes more sense.

Lawnmower connects to users’ online banking accounts at Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and US Bank with an API from Spark Capital-backed Plaid.

Then, Lawnmower monitors user accounts for transactions, It rounds up the purchase \of, for example, a $3.50 latte to $4.00 and saves that $0.50 cents for later. Once a user’s savings reach $4.00, Lawnmower exchanges the “change” for Bitcoin.

That I understand; now I’m intrigued.

The benefits, says Gorsira, are a reduction in Bitcoin’s volatility and wider consumer exposure, especially to those who would resist buying the currency in bulk.

That all depends on how big a base he builds and how often he trades. Less volatility may occur if Lawnmower can steady demand for Bitcoin.

Gorsira told CoinDesk:

We’re trying to raise consumer awareness about Bitcoin and give them an easy way to get in without huge commitment, so you can buy $3–$4 every couple days instead of buying Bitcoin at $300 and worrying about where it’s going to go.

Does the Lawnmower name suggest this mission? The management team (Gorsira, CTO Patrick Archambeau, and CFO Alex Sunnarborg) believes that if it doesn’t, it’s at least a way to separate their project from its competition.

At least it’s not cliche.

“Having ‘bit’ or ‘chain’ is like an Internet company having the letter E, like,” Gorsira remarked.

Competitive edges: Being first, branching out

Converting spare change to investments is not a new c9ncept. Acorns, for example, is an app that raised $9M in funding to allow users to make small-scale investments.

Gorsira is worried that Lawnmower won’t be first to apply the concept to Bitcoin, expressing concern that a company of Coinbase’s size could build a similar app “in a week.”

On the other hand, Gorsira’s team reports that not only is Coinbase uninterested in a parallel concept, it actually supports the Lawnmower effort. “All of the Bitcoin is housed on Coinbase, so when you sign up you have to have a Coinbase account that you log in with,” Archambeau clarified.

Lawnmower’s long-term competitive advantage, management says, may evolve similarly to Acorn’s in the sense of offering users a variety of options.

Gorsira speculated:

We have a lot of different ideas like putting 20% of the savings into a different currency like Litecoin, Dogecoin, or maybe having a slider that lets you invest 200% of your change into Bitcoin.

Beta launch underway

Lawnmower’s official beta phase began March 25, giving a small group of users a look at the program. You can still sign up, according to Archambeau.

The team views this phase as a chance to obtain outside feedback that they can incorporate into the launch product.

“We need to see what people like or don’t like so we can start adding features. The point is to have users use it, break it and tell us if they like it. [It goes] beyond three people who live in the same room everyday. We get kind of hive-minded,” Gorsira quipped.

Beta users must have iOS 8 to run the TestFlight application, though Lawnmower is compatible with iOS 6 and 7.

Installation is simple if users meet these prerequisites, as the app quickly proceeds through windows that encourage users to connect to their bank and answer security questions that account access requires.

Fiat-to-Bitcoin bridge

Lawnmower views its value as creating a platform that appeals to users outside the target markets of other Bitcoin companies, especially since it will monitor its users’ traditional financial behaviors.

“There’s no company in the Bitcoin space that has those ties with fiat,” said Gorsira. “By linking your spending and saving if you will, having information on both the Bitcoin and fiat side is a lot more powerful.”

Gorsira called Lawnmower a bridge between products like Mint and Coinbase, because it appeals to both sets of users. His hope, though, for the company is that its direction transcends Bitcoin.

“People are starting to get used to conscious saving. So, [we want to] target those people who are less technical and encourage them to diversify some of their assets,” Gorsira continued, concluding:

“We have a lot longer plans once we acquire a user base.”

It will be interesting to learn what that base does with grass clippings.

Image via Flickr by BTC Keychain