Having been involved in Bitcoin since 2011 and on the inside of one of the 28nm Bitcoin mining contestants for the past two months, here is my story.
Feel free to skip the long intro to skip to the present: I added it because people might want to know where I'm coming from.
My elevator pitch is that I discovered Bitcoin in 2011 while traveling in Argentina, and after doing research I started recommending it as an investment to the subscribers of my financial newsletter in early 2012. BTC was $5 back then, so we did well with that.
Here are some links of the things that I've done in Bitcoin:
"Bitcoin seen through the eyes of a central banker"
Interview Keiser Report about Bitcoin, ECB & Argentina
"Why you should invest in Bitcoin"
"Cryptocurrency is the future of money, banking, and finance"
Since the beginning I've been thinking a lot about how I wanted to invest in Bitcoin. It has always made plain sense to me to begin with buying coins, as it is like an ETF on the entire Bitcoin economy.
However, in early 2012, just the idea of buying bitcoins was a pretty scary prospect. I consulted with two core developers who actually tried to dissuade me from looking at Bitcoin as an investment. One said it was still very much an experiment, the other said (correctly so) that there were still substantial security risks.
Eventually it was my experience in Argentina's difficult economy (rife with currency crackdowns and capital controls) that convinced me to take the leap - I decided that there was enough demand and enthusiasm for financial freedom in the world. Enough for some crazy people to keep funneling resources into Bitcoin, resources that would support the idealist hackers and maverick entrepreneurs to make the technology of cryptocurrency a success.
So I started buying bitcoins, considering myself lucky because my friends in Latin America had it much tougher: they had to mine most of their cryptocurrency in their basement with graphic cards because of the harsh capital controls that prevented them from sending money abroad and buying them on an exchange.
In all, 2012 was a difficult year for Bitcoin. The 'old' bitcoiners were still psychologically numbed from the huge decline in price, and the newbees were continually scared by new scandals: the Bitcoinica thefts in May and July, the BTC Savings and Trust-ponzi implosion in August, and the Bitfloor theft in September. The price of Bitcoin hovered between $5 and $13 all year, the mainstream media ignored or at best scorned Bitcoin, and I for one was mostly happy to still have an unscathed wallet.
Throughout the year I wrote about Bitcoin practically every week in my email updates and every month in my printed investment newsletter. It was often a frustrating job, because my many of my subscribers are babyboomers or from an older generation who don't intuitively grasp the concepts of peer-to-peer, open source, online, etc. I received a good number of emails accusing me of promoting a ponzi scheme, and my publisher (who does all the promotion for the newsletter) was very sceptical and tried to persuade me to write less about Bitcoin and more about traditional investments like gold and stocks.
I think this tension/struggle is part of what prevented me from exploring the investable side of the Bitcoin economy for quite a while, although I did buy a few Bitcoin mining stocks on the GLBSE. (Compliments to the miners that kept paying out dividends even after the wild ending of this stock exchange - COGNITIVE is one of them)
Attending the Bitcoin London conference organized by Amir Taaki in late 2012 was definitely a turning point for me. Cryptocurrency suddenly became tangible and real, and I think that was the case for many people there.
During Amir's conference, I made friends with Jim from MultiBit and Nejc from BitStamp. I likely missed an investment opportunity with BitPay (even though Tony Galippi was just as impressive back then as he is now), and I tried to persuade GLBSE's Nefario to start talking to a lawyer about the legal risks of running a Bitcoin denominated exchange. Josh from Butterfly Labs made an announcement there in London, and that was my first experience with the excitement and controversy that characterizes so much of the Bitcoin mining industry today.
Meanwhile my investment newsletter kept doing well, and I decided to make a move to South America to expand my horizon. That's how it happened that I was with my friends in Buenos Aires when the March-April 2013 explosion in price happened: an exhilarating time, and I'm still grateful for their long term Bitcoin experience which helped me make the right decisions for myself during this period.
Still I kept thinking about how I could invest some of my gains back in the Bitcoin economy. Chasing a dollar profit doesn't make sense to me, so I had to identify business models that gave perspective for making a multiple on my bitcoins.
Bitcoin mining felt like an interesting fit, for several reasons.
First, I spent the past few years studying the gold mining industry and the parallels and differences with Bitcoin mining are absolutely fascinating to me.
Next, in the short run I am not at ease regarding the authorities ability to attack or destabilize the BTC network. Many will object by saying that the Bitcoin network has a hashrate that's currently 40 times faster than top 500 supercomputers combined. However, that is misleading because the equation would change dramatically if those computers were equipped with specialized ASICs that can be produced for a couple of million dollars.
This is what Jim Rickards referred to when he said
"technologists don't understand the world of power politics and malicious actors: there are people who don't care about the cost. (…) If they want to destroy a system, and they have to pay to do it, they'll do it. It's not necessarily more expensive than buying an aircraft carrier or building a submarine."
This is the reason why I think it's crucial to push up the network speed as close to the physical limits as possible. Once the miners are working on the smallest node and with the most efficient chip possible, it will be much more difficult for a malicious entity to do a 51% attack on the network.
(By the way, much respect to the small bitcoiners and basement miners for this: they are the ones that have been bankrolling the expensive development of ever more sophisticated ASIC chips. They are the ones that are slowly turning the once brittle skeleton of the Bitcoin network into an indestructible Adamantium shield.)
Finally, it seemed obvious to me that the Bitcoin mining market was about to enter a consolidation phase, in which the market would increasingly sponsor the more reliable and technically gifted chip producers, which will eventually create a more stable environment for everyone. How exciting, to try and witness from the first row how an entirely new industry grows from childhood/adolescence towards maturity!
I first met Ravi Iyengar and his team members at the San Jose Bitcoin conference, where they pitched for an angel investment in their company. I was immediately impressed by their passion, technical pedigree, and understanding of the workings of Bitcoin.
I was definitely intrigued and after the conference we kept the communication lines open. Back in Belgium I met with two interested angels who happened to be Belgian, too. I then talked to different people with hardware backgrounds to verify whether Ravi's team really was that good judging by the industry standards. They were.
I started getting excited.
From there on, things began moving fast. The two Belgians got in and the more I talked to Ravi, the more I was impressed with his cogent reasoning, his decisiveness, and the speed by which he absorbs large amounts of new information. By mid July I finally made the decision to also come in as the third angel investor in CoinTerra.
When I talked about the company to Timo Hanke (German cryptographer and author of the Bitcoin Pay-to-Contract protocol
) he was intrigued, did his own due dilligence, and soon after became an investor in, and later a team member of CoinTerra.
Other investors and advisors that came in on the angel round had reputable backgrounds in the software and hardware industries, precious metals, telecom, and law - all of whom shared a great and genuine passion for Bitcoin. I began feeling very fortunate to be able to follow this project from such a close perspective.
After some days, because of Ravi's high energy and magnetic enthusiasm, the following turned into involvement. When I was invited to come to Austin, Texas to help out, I jumped in with both feet - I've been here for a week now.
One thing I noticed when getting involved with CoinTerra more closely, is that the communications part of the equation needed improving. I can understand how the issue came to be. Ravi is in the first place an engineer and a team leader, and he started structuring his company from that same perspective. Even today most of his focus is directed to closely managing all the engineers (in Austin, in Raleigh, and also in India) to make sure that the risks involved are managed to the greatest possible extent.
The engineering roots of CoinTerra are also reflected in the initial vision behind the company: to build large and efficient mining data centers, deploy them worldwide, and to then offer cloud hashing services to the public. However, the still uncertain legal repercussions of that lead to a change in strategy. Instead, CoinTerra is now working on providing chips and rigs for the general public, and leaves it for the customers to decide where and how to mine with them.
Now, I understand and appreciate how very skeptical a large part of the Bitcoin mining community has become. People have invested a lot of resources in brave but often very inexperienced teams who have not always been able to deliver on their promises. It has been a road of trial and error, and the errors of some have proven painful to many.
I can say that I understand what it means to have skin in the game of the mining market; I am an investor in a company that has announced but not released a manufactured product on the market yet. And I stand by it: I think CoinTerra is working on fantastic products and has great future potential as a company. Would I like to make a return on my investment? Of course, that will be the best proof that it fulfills the potential that I see in Ravi and his team.
That said, even to just be involved in this technological arms race that is taking place in Bitcoin mining, where hyper competitive capitalism is miraculously creating a very pure public good, is a real privilege. I think the sector will further mature and that we will see more and more reliable companies emerge over time, and all the while the Bitcoin network will grow stronger and stronger.
I'm happy to take questions if you are interested.
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