I Ordered Lightning Pizza and Lived to Tell the Tale

A few weeks ago, we noticed an influx of excellent pizza gifs on Crypto Twitter. Turns out they were heralding the creation of a web-based portal that allows users to order Domino’s with bitcoin, using the Lightning Network. Simply put, crypto payments company Fold places the order on the user’s behalf, so Domino’s still receives payment in fiat.

The idea seemed like a fun nod to bitcoin history and a good excuse to write about the promise of Lightning, a Layer 2 payment protocol designed to facilitate quick and cheap transactions. Plus, if we’re being honest, we wanted to expense some pizza.

Easy, I thought. I’ll get a Lightning wallet, fill out the delivery info, and cheesy goodness (or cheese anyway—Domino’s isn’t that great) would appear at BREAKERMAG’s front door. Journalists love pizza! I would be the office hero.

Oh, how foolish that all seems now.

The undertaking was, well, what’s the opposite of seamless? I filled out address fields on my phone again and again. I toggled between my browser and mobile wallet app. I exchanged 22 emails with the very nice and apologetic Customer Success Fold team member Amy Su. Each time when I thought I had it solved, there was another roadblock. Surely this was not the promised frictionless and easy payment solution I had skimmed upwards of three articles about. (Just kidding—I’ve read at least four, but none of them provided much insight into how to actually do this. The LN.Pizza site is similarly vague.)

The process started easily enough. First, I needed bitcoin. I decided to replicate the experience of a person who knows little about crypto and buy the necessary bitcoin in-app, rather than transfer currency from an existing wallet to one of the three Lightning Pizza-approved options. BlueWallet’s custodial option seemed to be the most straightforward of the three, so I downloaded the app and set up the account, filled out my information and took pictures of my drivers license to meet KYC requirements. All fine.

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BlueWallet is set up so you can buy bitcoin through Changelly, powered by Simplex, and the minimum amount I could buy was $50 worth—more than I hoped to spend on a Domino’s pizza, but OK. Ease of use was the most important thing. The $10 fee I got slapped with, however, was less OK. (Changelly and Simplex each charge a fee of five percent, with a minimum of $10. Lame.)

Still, I was on track. It took a while for the bitcoin to show up in my newly created wallet, so it was good that I wasn’t especially hungry. Again, though, no real surprise. I selected “Delivery” on the LN.Pizza site, and filled out the office address. Here I hit my first snag, as I received a “pos order submit error” message. I reached out to support, and Su informed me that there was a bug that allowed you to type “NYC” in the address field, but didn’t recognize it. No problem. I created another order and typed “New York” instead.

I clicked the payment option and attempted to use the QR code generated by LN.pizza to complete the payment. It failed again. This one was on me. In my focus on purchasing bitcoin, I hadn’t transfer it from the bitcoin wallet to the separate Lightning wallet. So I did that, and then attempted to re-submit an order for a cheese pizza and garlic knots.

Another failure, though this time my bitcoin was gone and I had to reach out to Fold again to request a reimbursement. Su was apologetic, saying that they were seeing “across-the-board failures” and had to temporarily taken the site down, so I should hang tight. Around 30 minutes later, the site was back up and as soon as I figured out how to create a new invoice in the Lightning wallet, my bitcoin was refunded. I received no pizza, but I did receive a Domino’s Customer Satisfaction Survey via email.

Victory—and pizza—were mine. Several coworkers and I greeted the delivery man with an enthusiasm typically reserved for a child’s first steps, or a World Series win. “This pizza was ordered with bitcoin!” senior writer Mark Yarm explained jubilantly.

The fourth time was the charm. I copied the QR code and the payment for 537011 satoshis, or around $20 (including tip), finally went through. (Fold provides a five percent discount as an incentive.) Before I knew it, the Domino’s delivery guy was at our office door. Victory—and pizza—were mine. Several coworkers and I greeted the delivery man with an enthusiasm typically reserved for a child’s first steps, or a World Series win. “This pizza was ordered with bitcoin!” senior writer Mark Yarm explained jubilantly. The delivery man did not share our excitement. He did, however, graciously allow us to document the occasion.

photo by Mark Yarm

After consuming several garlic knots, I shared the good news with my now-BFF Su, who sent me several celebratory emojis. She also connected me with Product Lead Will Reeves, who agreed to chat with me about the experience and the challenges of onboarding new users.

When I reached Reeves via video chat, he was already aware of the issues I had with ordering, and expressed sympathy. “I know that it was hard to onboard you into a wallet, but once people have been onboarded in a wallet, using their currency over something like Lightning Pizza is actually pretty easy,” he told me. “Especially if you’re used to making bitcoin payments where you had to wait 10 minutes and you may have paid high fees, or you may have not sent enough money which caused the transaction to stop.”

Lightning Pizza was “essentially a proof of concept,” for Fold, he said, and provided an important use-case of the Lightning Network in a retail setting. In the first 12 days after Lightning Pizza’s launch, approximately 3000 people attempted to order pizza. However, out of the 1,500 orders submitted on the first day, only around 10 percent were successful, Reeves told Decrypt.

Other metrics are more promising. Reeves says Lightning Pizza tests have caused the average transaction size to increase, providing an important test for the network. “Before Lightning Pizza, the main use cases that people building products around were micro-transactions. So you would have people spending a couple cents on Y’alls or Lightning Roulette, or some of the games. Lightning Pizza for the first time is what tested and stretched the transaction threshold to levels never seen before, closer to $25, $30 range at scale.” According to 1ML, the LN.Pizza node that Fold runs has a capacity of almost $18,000 and 118 channels (at time of writing).

The company plans to integrate Lightning into the Fold’s other shopping choices and also launch mobile apps for both Android and iOS. “Last year, despite the bear market, the [overall] number of active crypto users doubled,” says Reeves. “Our goal for 2019 is to capture that buying power, by creating crypto payments that are as easy to use as [they are] rewarding, and as widely accepted as traditional forms of payment.”

But he knows there are still challenges when it comes to mainstream adoption, both with onboarding new users, and with clarifying the value proposition of the product itself. “Even before simplifying the onboarding, [we must provide] a very real, tangible, use-case that people want, whether they have cryptocurrency or not,” he says. “But the second step is: Okay, now how do you make that experience you just had [one] that’s not going to turn people away.” In a few weeks, Reeves says they plan to release “something that will reward every single transaction at the level of a credit card,” to further incentivize adoption. 

“It’s really exciting to work on Lightning,” he says. “Because for the first time, this Layer 2 solution has really allowed this conversation to be not entirely about sacrificing security, but also about celebrating user experience and being able to experiment.”

And pizza. Most importantly this conversation is also about pizza.