From the Toon to the moon

April 6, 2021

While technology jargon like blockchain and bitcoin have been around for more than a decade now, even those well-versed in the digital world can be forgiven for failing to understand what they really mean. Newcastle-based fintech start- up Bottlepay recently landed a high-profile £11 million seed funding round to fuel its global ambitions. The business hopes to not only revolutionise the way micro payments are conducted worldwide but believes it can be the watershed for mainstream understanding and uptake of bitcoin, leading to a more inclusive and democratic financial system. Jamie Hardesty speaks to founder Pete Cheyne to learn more.

American entrepreneur and web developer Matt Mullenweg, best known for creating the free and open-source web software WordPress, famously said “technology is best when it brings people together”.

While it’s highly unlikely to see Matt taking a stroll through Newcastle anytime soon, the Mullenweg mantra is alive and present across many of the region’s high potential technology pioneers and disruptors.

Perhaps none more so than in Bottlepay founder Pete Cheyne.

A developer by trade, Pete co-founded leading North East software company Partnerize alongside four ex-colleagues back in 2010. Today the company, now valued at over $200 million, is a global leader in its field, working with the likes of Google and Adidas to optimise their online advertising.

Highly touted as one of the UK’s future unicorns, 70 it would have been easy for Pete to remain at the business he feels so incredibly proud to have helped build.

He says: “Partnerize was your classic start-up journey; it was a proper rollercoaster, we had great experiences on that ride.

“We’d raised notable venture capital and we were winning big global clients but by 2018, I realised it was time for me to make a change.”

Naturally effervescent about technology, and crucially technology which has the impact to considerably shake up the status quo, Pete realised he wanted to pursue the potential of blockchain.

Blockchain technology allows for a brand-new way of transmitting money without the need for traditional banking networks, as well as a means to store data in a transparent and unalterable way.

Pete explains: “By 2018, I’d been watching blockchain closely for a while.

“As a techy looking into this super-nerdy rabbit hole, I wasn’t able to resist it any longer and I knew I had to do something in it. I very amicably left the team at Partnerize and wanted to go back to basics.

“So I got a little office down by the quayside, and with heavy metal blasting in my headphones, I started experimenting and cranking out some code to see what I could find.

“After a year or so, I finally saw within blockchain some protocols that would allow us to build something for the mass market; I’ve always wanted to build something consumer-facing that everyone can use.”

What followed was Bottlepay, a payment system with the potential to pave the way for a new digital economy by eradicating the barriers to effective instant payments.

The Bottlepay platform gives users access to an open payment network that allows people to send, spend and receive money anywhere in the world in real-time.

“Consumer behaviour has changed over the years,” says Pete.

“Everything is on demand and everything is in small bite-sized chunks, yet what we are having to do is pay for all those small chunks in large credit-based subscriptions.

“Digital content is bundled up into £9.99 a month subscription; you can’t even click on a newspaper article in most instances and read it unless you pay so much a month to see the content.

“The reason that exists is because of incumbent payment rails.

“So, as a business, you can’t do an economical transaction, for example, read a newspaper article for 20 pence, because those payment rails are going to charge you a minimum of 20, 30 or 40 pence and then three, four or five per cent on top because there are so many intermediaries involved in a transaction.”

Pete believes the world’s existing financial system and payment rails, i.e. how money is moved from a payer to payee, is ripe for disruption due to the inequality and inconsistent experience users have worldwide.

He explains: “It’s easy to conflate bitcoin the asset with bitcoin the network.

“It’s bitcoin the network, for me, which is the killer invention. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime invention.

“With bitcoin the network, there are no intermediaries, and you can just deal directly with the payment rail.

“This is to money what the internet was to information and with our infrastructure it makes this concept so much more accessible.

“We can offer businesses the ability to do an economical transaction for a penny because we can go to fractions of a pence under the hood.

“This is going to open up a whole new untapped digital economy.

“A farmer in Uganda, for example, could get access to the same level of financial services as a guy on floor 98 in a Wall Street skyscraper. It’s incredibly democratic.

“It’s unreal for financial inclusion; for us as a business we want to open that up for everyone.

“We’re building the infrastructure on top that will make it accessible for everyone, not just techies.”

The Bottlepay team’s ambition to be the facilitator of an improved and democratised approach to global payments is gargantuan. Success here is a solution which changes the world.

Pete says: “Our vision is hugely ambitious – it’s big-big!

“We know we’re a plucky start-up right now that’s full of ambition and passion but is entering a pond full of piranhas.

“We’re a direct competitor to incumbent payment rails.

“To get to where we want to be, and for all of this to really work, we need to scale our tech and we need to scale our teams. It’s critical that we’re properly resourced to expand our reach.”

Following a successful February launch, which saw the company acquire thousands of users and quickly process half a million pounds of transactions, Bottlepay landed an eye-catching seed funding round of £11 million.

Funds will be used to fuel product development and scale the team to meet growing user demand.

The size of the capital involved at such an early stage, as well as the investors involved, suggests great faith in Pete and the team to be a notable UK technology scale-up soon.

Those involved in the funding round include renowned global investors such as British fund manager Alan Howard, present and former Goldman Sachs partners, venture capital firm FinTech Collective and financial services firm NYDIG and tech entrepreneur Phil Doye.

Despite the pressure inevitably attached to any raise, Pete remains his smiley and infectiously positive self. His natural love of technology and passion for people is unique.

He’s living, right now, where he wanted to be back in 2018 when he took the leap.

Except now, it’s not only his heavy metal to keep him company, it’s a team of techies working tirelessly across the globe to help make the dream a reality.

He says: “In the tech team alone we have fifteen people, operating across ten time zones worldwide.

“There’s 24/7 coding going on – every morning is like Christmas; I wake up and there’s tons of code commits – it’s great.”

Though the tech team and customer-base are global for Bottlepay, the company remains steadfast in the North East and committed to playing a pivotal role in its future.

Pete adds: “We are growing out our compliance and support teams here in Newcastle.

There’s a great talent pool and community here – it’s kick ass.

“This will always be our spiritual home – from the Toon to the moon!”