For Mike LaGrotta and Sarah Belaidi of the Techno Tourist, a day of work may include networking at various electronic music events, traveling to international destinations, and attending afterparties until the sun rises. But when I met with the couple at Spring Natural Kitchen, they warned me that the job involved a lot of hard work. In addition to working long, exhausting hours, Mike and Sarah also have to deal with numerous currencies and difficult payment system companies on a regular basis. I sat down for a drink with the founders of the Techno Tourist to talk about how Bitcoin could simplify the way that they deal with payments and how they plan to convert their customers to the digital currency.
Emily Braun: So tell me about how Techno Tourist started.
Mike LaGrotta: We officially started the company in 2011.
Sarah Belaidi: It was his idea. We were in Mexico at the BPM Festival. The sun was either coming up or setting, and we were at an after hours party overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. And he turned to me and said, “I want everybody to be able to do this.” This was before the explosion of dance music. When we came back, we started the company.
Braun: Can you give me broad overview of what Techno Tourist does?
LaGrotta: We started off as just a travel agency, and we’ve expanded into a lifestyle brand. We have the five pillars of art, architecture, music, food, and travel. We include every one of those aspects in our trips and in everything we do. Now, we’ve started to focus a little bit more on media – writing reviews, providing coverage. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, like festivals reaching out to us like, “Do you want to cover our festival?”
Belaidi: Essentially, we’re a boutique travel agency designed and aimed at sending people to electronic music festivals around the world. We focus on the high-quality underground events and high-end travel. We only like to put customers where we would stay ourselves.
LaGrotta: And if the customers want DJ equipment at their villa or food in their fridge or a private chef or a car service, we set all of that stuff up for them.
Braun: So you both obviously love to travel.
LaGrotta: Yeah, that’s one of the main reasons we wanted to start the company. I’ve been following my favorite DJs around the world for maybe eleven years.
Braun: How did you get into this type of music?
LaGrotta: Growing up right outside of New York City, I had easy access to it.
Belaidi: He’s very musically inclined, too.
Braun: And how has your taste changed over the years? Do you have a favorite DJ?
Belaidi: I think we moved from techno to tech house to very deep house to deep tech house back to deep house.
LaGrotta: Right now, I wouldn’t classify a favorite DJ, because it’s more of a favorite label thing. One DJ might be releasing three different sounds under three different labels.
Braun: I found the Techno Tourist because you accept Bitcoin as a payment method. When did you first hear about it, and what were your first impressions?
LaGrotta: I used to have a subscription to Wired magazine, and I was reading it on my way to Europe in June of 2011. I ripped out [an article about Bitcoin], and told myself that I had to look into it. And then I didn’t look into it. But around a year and a few months later, I started seeing things about it again, and I felt like such an idiot for not looking into it. And I was like, “I need to buy as many as I possibly can.”
Belaidi: I heard about it through him, because it was, and still is, all that he talks about. I didn’t trust him until [a few months later], and then I jumped on board.
Braun: Do you have a lot of customers pay with Bitcoin?
LaGrotta: I wouldn’t say a lot, in terms of how many I’d like. That’s actually something we’re working on for the next year, advising people to pay with Bitcoin. With our business model and where we do business in the world, it really would help us. Because sending money to places like Mexico is not as simple as you would think. We have customers from all over the world…paying us in five to ten different currencies. And then we have to pay our vendors in whatever currency they accept.
Belaidi: We work with Stripe, Square, and PayPal. [Stripe and Square] don’t like working with travel agents. They hold your money for a few days, and if you need the customer’s money to turn around and pay the hotel, waiting seven days for the payment to come through is a little bit insane. You’re sort of sitting there wondering where your money is and if it’s ever going to get to your bank account. It’s not the friendliest system.
Braun: What do you think needs to happen for Bitcoin to reach more people?
LaGrotta: Transaction fees have increased significantly, and there’s a lot more red tape around sending money, so it’s become extremely difficult to accept money from people. So I think that once we start to give customers the option to pay lower fees [with Bitcoin], the choice is going to be pretty easy for them.
Belaidi: I think that our customers would need an understanding of what Bitcoin is and why they should pay us with it.
LaGrotta: In our specific situation, the first thing is going to be savings on fees.
Belaidi: Or maybe a discount [for paying with Bitcoin]. But I think it would take some handholding, instructions on how to actually pay us in Bitcoin. And I feel like it would be more of a word of mouth thing, almost selling it and uncovering needs. Selling our potential customer on the fact that there’s an issue with our current monetary system, and figuring out what would make them either ask more questions or go look online about it.
Braun: How would you describe Bitcoin to someone in thirty seconds?
Belaidi: That would be a problem for him. He’d give them a full 24-hour course on it.
LaGrotta: I’d say that it’s an alternate payment method. We’re in a unique situation where a lot of the people we interact with are extremely aware of the economic climate and everything going on around them.
Belaidi: Yeah, because you’ve taught them! When he learned about Bitcoin, he told everybody about it.
LaGrotta: The two groups of people who pay us in Bitcoin now are either our friends who are also customers or overseas people, because the fees are just way too high for them. Word of mouth is definitely the way it has spread so far. We do have people who ask, “Oh, you accept Bitcoin?” and they won’t necessarily ask questions about our company accepting it but just general questions about [Bitcoin].
Belaidi: His best day of this year was when we were in Mexico, and we took a random cab with this random girl, and Mike was talking about currencies and the economic situation, and the girl turns around and says to him, “I still have faith in Bitcoin.”
Braun: What challenges do you think Bitcoin faces? I mean, I have faith too, but some people don’t.
LaGrotta: Nothing will stop Bitcoin. There may be challenges that inhibit its growth for a short period of time. Like number one, there’s the issue of regulation. For example, there are two Bitcoin businesses that I’m essentially ready to start, but there’s no regulation whatsoever. And also, there are a lot of very intelligent people that have a good amount of bitcoins, but they’re just not selling them because of the price. And a lot of them want to start businesses and have great things they want to do, but again, there’s not regulation, so [they] might have the FBI knock down [their] doors. And the price isn’t where they want to sell it, so they’re just going to wait. If the price were to increase, you’d see a positive feedback loop. People who are investing would have more money, and they’d want to start business. Eventually, that will happen.
– Emily Braun