Ola Doudin, founder of the Dubai-based start-up BitOasis, comparing the creation of bitcoin to the invention of the worldwide web. Victor Besa for The National
Ola Doudin, founder of the Dubai-based start-up BitOasis, comparing the creation of bitcoin to the invention of the worldwide web. Victor Besa for The National

The Dubai entrepreneur banking on Bitcoin’s success



Ola Doudin, the Jordanian founder of the Dubai-based start-up BitOasis, bought her first Bitcoin three years ago.

She was living in Amman, having quit her job in London’s finance industry in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crash.

“I was 23 or 24” when the markets collapsed, she says. At Ernst & Young, where she worked in IT risk and assurance, “a lot of people were being laid off. I couldn’t make sense any more, [of] what I was doing, why I was working”.

She decided to move back to Jordan just as the Arab Spring uprisings were sweeping the region and soon began working on entrepreneurship initiatives with Aramex founder Fadi Ghandour. It was 2013 when she picked up an issue of Business Insider that covered Bitcoin, and thought: "What is this crazy thing that everyone is talking about? This is something transformative, if it actually works".

She spent months reading up on the digital currency in scientific journals and on Reddit and connecting with other enthusiasts on Twitter.

In Amman, however, there was no obvious way to get hold of Bitcoins at the time. Individuals around the world were selling directly to others, but Ms Doudin couldn’t find anyone in Jordan, or even in the UAE or Lebanon, to buy from. Finally, a friend connected her to a Canadian cryptocurrency fan, she sent him money via PayPal, and he deposited a Bitcoin into her digital wallet.

“This is amazing,” she says she remembers thinking. “This is the future of money. This is the future of banking, financial services. It changes how we pay online, it changes peer to peer payments, how Swift and Visa could behave. Even our concept of what a currency is.”

Ms Doudin joined Bitcoin meetup groups in Amman and Dubai, and met Daniel Robenek, a Czech software engineer. Together, they hatched a plan for a platform that would allow Middle Eastern users to safely buy and store Bitcoins online.

BitOasis was launched in Dubai in late 2014 and secured seed funding from Wamda Capital and others in 2015. Its wallet service is now available across the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, and users in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia can also use the exchange service by wiring money to a BitOasis bank account, to be changed to Bitcoins for a 1 per cent fee.

But why bother to do this? There are a couple of good reasons, Ms Doudin says. A sizeable user base in Egypt and Morocco uses Bitcoin to pay tiny amounts of money on a frequent basis for things like gaming, virtual private networks and cloud services. These payments can be prohibitively expensive via bank transfer or credit card, or completely impossible, but via Bitcoin they can cost only 10 or 20 US cents in fees to miners.

The Gulf’s expatriate communities can similarly use Bitcoin to pay bills or top up phone credit for their family back home. Then there are wealthier users in the UAE and Saudi Arabia who want to buy and hold Bitcoin as a way of diversifying their investment portfolio. Bitcoin’s value tends to rise when there are sharp drops in the value of conventional currencies and commodities.

“Bitcoin opens up whole new markets and business models,” Ms Doudin says, comparing its creation to the invention of the worldwide web. “You’d never have had Facebook or WhatsApp if you didn’t have the internet,” she says. “The next Venmos and PayPals are going to be built on Bitcoin.”

A study published by Juniper Research in June 2016 predicted the total value of Bitcoin transactions in 2016 will be three times as big as the total value in 2015.

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The bio

Studied up to grade 12 in Vatanappally, a village in India’s southern Thrissur district

Was a middle distance state athletics champion in school

Enjoys driving to Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah with family

His dream is to continue working as a social worker and help people

Has seven diaries in which he has jotted down notes about his work and money he earned

Keeps the diaries in his car to remember his journey in the Emirates

The specs

Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cyl turbo
Power: 190hp at 5,200rpm
Torque: 320Nm from 1,800-5,000rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto
Fuel consumption: 6.7L/100km
Price: From Dh111,195
On sale: Now

Kill

Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

The specs

Engine: 6.2-litre supercharged V8

Power: 712hp at 6,100rpm

Torque: 881Nm at 4,800rpm

Transmission: 8-speed auto

Fuel consumption: 19.6 l/100km

Price: Dh380,000

On sale: now

Where to buy art books in the UAE

There are a number of speciality art bookshops in the UAE.

In Dubai, The Lighthouse at Dubai Design District has a wonderfully curated selection of art and design books. Alserkal Avenue runs a pop-up shop at their A4 space, and host the art-book fair Fully Booked during Art Week in March. The Third Line, also in Alserkal Avenue, has a strong book-publishing arm and sells copies at its gallery. Kinokuniya, at Dubai Mall, has some good offerings within its broad selection, and you never know what you will find at the House of Prose in Jumeirah. Finally, all of Gulf Photo Plus’s photo books are available for sale at their show. 

In Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi has a beautiful selection of catalogues and art books, and Magrudy’s – across the Emirates, but particularly at their NYU Abu Dhabi site – has a great selection in art, fiction and cultural theory.

In Sharjah, the Sharjah Art Museum sells catalogues and art books at its museum shop, and the Sharjah Art Foundation has a bookshop that offers reads on art, theory and cultural history.

ALRAWABI SCHOOL FOR GIRLS

Creator: Tima Shomali

Starring: Tara Abboud, Kira Yaghnam, Tara Atalla

Rating: 4/5

Film: Raid
Dir: Rajkumar Gupta
Starring: Ajay Devgn, Ileana D'cruz and Saurabh Shukla

Verdict:  Three stars 


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