Bitcoin me: Adam Draper's Boost VC makes a big bet on the virtual currency
As a fourth generation Silicon Valley VC, Adam Draper has early stage tech investing in his blood. Or as the subheader of his personal blog reads: "I have two missions in life: Help entrepreneurs and build an Iron Man suit."
The son of Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ) co-founder Tim Draper, the 26-year-old has already dabbled in operating a secondary market for startup shares and briefly launched his own equity crowdfunding portal, until market conditions and family legal concerns ended both projects shortly after they began. Draper’s current project, a startup accelerator loosely affiliated with his father’s entrepreneurial university, seems like the best idea of the bunch and is about to get significantly more interesting with its second class.
San Mateo-based Boost VC offers not only pre-Seed investment, office space, and mentorship, but also housing, hosting all participants in an on-site hotel. The accelerator is currently accepting applications for its class beginning June 24, and, in an unexpected wrinkle, Draper has decided to focus part of the class on technologies associated with the Bitcoin virtual currency. He plans to admit five to seven Bitcoin-related startups out of the 15-company class.
In the lead-up to the June 1 application deadline, Draper has come up with a number of creative ideas for recruiting Bitcoin startups. For example, he will host a hackathon at the "Bitcoin 2013: The Future of Payments" conference, held in San Jose May 17–19.
The accelerator founder writes on his blog that the current climate around Bitcoin reminds him of the “Wild West” days of peer-to-peer file sharing kicked off by Napster, but that a renaissance in the next few years will formalize Bitcoin into a digital currency standard. Boost VC is hoping to play a role in that process.
“There is a thriving hacker community behind Bitcoin, there are purchases being made with it (some of them legitimate), and there is $300 million worth of Bitcoin,” Draper writes. “It is becoming readily available to the common Internet user rather than just hackers. I believe that this movement will spur not only the iTunes of Bitcoin, but an entire economy of ideas.”
It may be the early days of Bitcoin, but some important groups are already taking it seriously. The Internet Archive recently began paying its employees in the virtual currency and is soliciting donations by the same method.
Draper points out that the nascent digital currency already has a number of appealing qualities. Bitcoin can be transferred anywhere in the world within minutes with negligible fees, and it is not dependent on any company or government to maintain its value. The system also incorporates a fixed and known inflation rate, based on the total number of Bitcoins that will ever be created.
The currency is also difficult to track, although not entirely anonymous, and is held up by its supporters as impossible to counterfeit – which is surely a welcome challenge to some. Furthermore, unlike bank accounts and merchant accounts (ahem, Paypal), Bitcoin accounts cannot be frozen and transactions cannot be blocked or reversed.
Many of the above attributes are both advantages and disadvantages when considering it as an alternative global currency. Governments, for example, fear its inability to be tracked, while many advocates consider that its greatest strength. And there has already been a multi-million dollar fraud in the Bitcoin ecosystem, which has left some people on edge.
But many of these attributes, positive and negative, are also enormous opportunities for startups to create new and innovative services that make the currency more efficient, more liquid, and more secure. Draper sees an opportunity to invest in and nurture several of these ideas through Boost VC, and he has already made its first investment in the ecosystem, backing Y Combinator alumni digital wallet platform Coinbase.
It will likely be years before anyone knows if Bitcoin lives up to its promise of becoming a ubiquitous, global alternative currency. What is all but certain is that if this promise is to become a reality, it will take the foresight and backing of countless entrepreneurs and investors along the way. In that sense, Boost is well ahead of its time. For Adam Draper, however, the risk is that he may be too far ahead.