Bitcoin takes a big step into the mainstream with support from Expensify

Credit: PhelanRiessen via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

Expensify, an online travel-expense tracking service for businesses, will allow reimbursements to be made in Bitcoin, the all-digital currency that is gaining in popularity. It's the first sizeable enterprise business to support Bitcoin, and is another signal that the currency is getting mainstream support.

CEO and founder David Barrett says, "We think we're the largest, most mainstream, and most boring enterprise company to ever adopt Bitcoin."

The currency is somewhat controversial because it has no central backing and its valuation is based purely on supply and demand. Its value against the dollar has nearly doubled in the last month as concerns about the European economic situation have sharpened. (To read more about Bitcoin and how it works, check out Bitcoin.org and WeUseCoins.)

San Francisco startup Expensify has always been a bit quirky -- for instance, the company's 30 or so employees all travel to exotic locations like India or Vietnam for one month per year, coding and sharing experiences in a kind of backpacker-style hackathon. 

But the 30-employee startup is doing real business: The company claims 200,000 companies and 1.4 million end users are using Expensify to process "millions" of expense reports every day. The company is using a classic "land and expand" model to get into enterprises -- employees turn to the Expensify app on their mobile phones to track all receipts, then use the associated online service to create expense reports to submit for reimbursement. As companies begin receiving more and more reports via Expensify, the idea is that they'll eventually standardize on the platform, replacing whatever system they're using now.

Expensify sees Bitcoin as a perfect way to reimburse international workers without incurring fees like those charged by Paypal and other more traditional systems. For instance, a European contractor might do work for an American company, and submit his expense report via Expensify. The paying company would reimburse Expensify in dollars; Expensify would translate the dollars to Bitcoins and deposit them in the user's Bitcoin wallet. Contractors could then use a local Bitcoin exchange to transfer them back into Euros. "This is not us giving people Bitcoins to buy stuff with Bitcoins," says Barrett. "The assumption is you'll convert them to local currency."

Barrett says he's always been interested in Bitcoin, but this is about serving Expensify users rather than making a strong philosophical point about the currency. "For the first time, here's a real problem [for us] that Bitcoin is perfect for solving."

He also believes that this will help pave the way for Bitcoin use by mainstream workers, not just techies. "This is not a super-techie early adopter thing, it's a great option for mainstream workers. It's very easy for people who know nothing about Bitcoin whatseover."

After the break, some screenshots that show the new feature in action:

Expensify users will be able to select Bitcoin as a reimbursement method.
Users will then be prompted to enter their Bitcoin address.
Here's the reimbursement confirmation.
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