Digital currency utopia: Tim Draper wants to use his 30,000 new bitcoins to boost emerging markets

By Michael Carney , written on July 2, 2014

From The News Desk

Tim Draper, who was the sole winner winner of the 30,000 Silk Road bitcoins auctioned on Monday by US Marshals Service (USMS), held a press conference this afternoon to discuss the implications of the ~$17m purchase.

The event, at the San Mateo Hero City campus of his Draper University of Heroes, was available online as a livestream. That may have contributed to the event’s sparse in-person attendance, featuring only three members of the press by Pando’s count (yes, we were there in person) as well as a room full of university attendees and portfolio entrepreneurs.

Draper opened the event with a few prepared remarks, focusing on the potential for bitcoin to impact emerging market economies, where unstable fiat currencies and limited access to financial services severely limit commerce. It’s with this outcome in mind that Draper has partnered with his portfolio company, Vaurum, to use the newly acquired coins as a source of liquidity in these developing markets.

He coyly dodged questions of the winning bid price in the USMS auction, saying only, “I bid more than everyone else.” The general consensus in bitcoin message boards over the last two days seems to indicate that the bid was above the then market price of approximately $570, but at this point this appears to be little more than unconfirmed speculation and rumors.

Draper did reveal one interesting anecdote about his dealings with the USMS. It is standard procedure when transferring large blocks of bitcoin to conduct a small test transfer first to ensure the proper wallet address and so forth. After all, bitcoin transactions cannot be reversed, by design. The USMS, however, insisted on completing the transfer as a single – $19 million at market prices – transaction, a nerveracking experience for obvious reasons. All went according to plan, though, and Draper later called the USMS “great to deal with.”

“All I know is this money is more secure than the money that is in my investment bank,” Draper said, recalling his feelings after finally seeing the digital coins hit his online wallet. He later called fiat currency the “old kind of money.” The elder Draper notes that he knew bitcoin had crossed the chasm when his 78-year-old aunt, who lives in South Carolina, first asked him about the crypto-currency.

Responding to Pando’s question about his intentions to acquire additional bitcoin in the future, Draper said that his latest purchase was sufficient to accomplish Vaurum’s plan, but wouldn’t rule out additional purchases. He has been an active investor in bitcoin startups, both through his Draper Associates fund and his son Adam Draper’s accelerator and seed fund.

“I am so enthusiastic about bitcoin,” Draper says. “I know that our next fund is going to have a very high concentration of bitcoin companies, we have a high focus on financial innovation.” He later added, “We really think that this is a big opportunity and clearly there is a lot of interest all over the world for people to look and see a new kind of currency, something that is not tied to political nations that are out there.”

The USMS currently controls another 144,000 bitcoins seized from accused Silk Road founder Ross “Dread Pirate Roberts” Ulbreicht, but has not yet received court approval to auction those assets.

Draper credits his son Adam for being the first member of the multi-generational investing family to appreciate that bitcoin was “a really big deal.” He also gave credit to the pseudonymous crypto-currency creator Satoshi Nakamoto (despite butchering his name), saying he had created an “amazing trading system.”

Draper addressed the notion that the very decision by the USMS to auction these bitcoin acts as tacit endorsement of its value. Varum CEO Avish Bhama contrasted the decision with what would happen had the USMS seized cocaine, saying that there is no chance that the government would have auctioned the illegal narcotics.

Draper namedropped a number of bitcoin startups that he believes are contributing to the global spread of the digital currency, including Argentina’s BitPagos, Mexico’s Coincove, and Korea’s Korbit (all of which are either Draper Associates or investments.) Adam Draper also mentioned a stealthy company called Atlas Card which he predicts will simplify the process of storing and spending bitcoins for use in both online and offline commerce.

The bitcoin market seems to have shown a neutral-to-positive reaction to Draper’s talk, with the Coindesk Bitcoin Price Index rising ever so slightly from $644.39 at start of the talk to $645.49 at its conclusion. That figure is up 1.5 percent from day’s opening price of $635.59, but down 1.3 percent from the intraday high of $653.66.

Draper describes himself as a long-term bitcoin investor, suggesting that he is unconcerned with the short-term price fluctuations and any impact that his purchase may have on the index price.

Given the number of things that could have gone wrong with this week’s events, bitcoin bulls must feel pretty good. The markets have been relatively stable and the auction was won at a what appears to be a positive price, by someone with strong ties to the bitcoin ecosystem. Draper too was all smiles, appearing as if he had just pulled off the trade of the century. We'll see.