The price of bitcoin may have declined dramatically from its $1,800 per unit price in late 2013, but Silicon Valley’s most respected investors are still feeling the love for the virtual currency. San Francisco-based 21 Inc. has raised, over a series of rounds, $116 million to turn the tech that underlies bitcoin into a mass marketable commodity.
The company hasn’t disclosed an independent valuation.
Instead of using bitcoin as a currency, 21 Inc. is focused on related but different uses for the blockchain – including lawyer-free smart contracts or tamper-proof online voting systems.
Balaji Srinivasan, the company’s co-founder and a partner at venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (one of the firm’s powerful investors), has said the largely stealth nature of the start-up process was “solely for pragmatic reasons—we didn’t have anything to say to the world.”
Consistently enough, the company also has nothing to say to the world on exactly how they plan to use the more than $100 million they have brought it, though CEO and co-founder Matthew Pauker has referenced “several interesting developments over the next weeks and months” that will deal with software and hardware products designed “to drive mainstream adoption of bitcoin.”
Its founder has often compared bitcoin to the internet – particularly in references to building the technological infrastructure (faster modems, wireless towers) that made wide scale adoption possible.
Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Mr. Srinivasan’s firm, the developer of the Netscape browser that propelled the early web, has endorsed 21 Inc.’s plans, noting: “it’s working on what they — and we — consider to be core infrastructure for mainstreaming bitcoin.”
Along with Andreessen Horowitz, RRE Ventures, Chinese private-equity firm Yuan Capital and Chip maker Qualcomm Inc. are all strategic investors in the firm. Khosla Ventures and Data Collective have invested in 21 as well. The firm is also popular with chief executives and founders from various tech companies, including PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, eBay Inc. co-founder Jeff Skoll, Dropbox Inc. CEO Drew Houston, Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Zynga Inc. co-founder Mark Pincus.
Qualcomm’s involvement in the project has caused some speculation that 21 has its sights on the so-called Internet of Things for a use case for bitcoin. Developers believe that virtual currency tech could make the management of data flowing to and from these machines more secure and straightforward.
The company takes its name from the 21 million limit that bitcoin’s managing algorithm imposes on the total number of bitcoins to be released. An announcement that it had brought in $5 million in funding in 2014 caused some speculation that the firm was really a secret vehicle for Silicon Valley elites to develop high-power equipment that could dominate bitcoin mining.
That does not seem to be the case, given investors’ comments on a consumer facing purpose.