The wilkelvoss are trying to make bitcoin legit according to esquire magazine
Every idea needs a face, even if the faces are illusory simplifications. The country you get is the president you get. The Yankees you get is the shortstop you get. Apple needed Jobs. ISIS needs al-Baghdadi. The moon shot belongs to Bezos. There's nothing under the Facebook sun that doesn't come back to Zuckerberg. But there is, as yet, no face behind the bitcoin curtain. It's the currency you've heard about but haven't been able to understand. Still to this day nobody knows who created it. For most people, it has something to do with programmable cash and algorithms and the deep space of mathematics, but it also has something to do with heroin and barbiturates and the sex trade and bankruptcies, too. It has no face because it doesn't seem tangible or real. We might align it with an anarchist's riot mask or a highly conceptualized question mark, but those images truncate its reality. Certain economists say it's as important as the birth of the Internet, that it's like discovering ice. Others are sure that it's doomed to melt. In the political sphere, it is the darling of the cypherpunks and libertarians. When they're not busy ignoring it, it scares the living shit out of the big banks and credit-card companies. ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW It sparked to life in 2008—when all the financial world prepared for itself the articulate noose—and it knocked on the door like some inconvenient relative arriving at the dinner party in muddy shoes and a knit hat. Fierce ideological battles are currently being waged among the people who own and shepherd the currency. Some shout, Ponzi scheme. Some shout, Gold dust. Bitcoin alone is worth billions of dollars, but the computational structure behind it—its blockchain and its sidechains—could become the absolute underpinning of the world's financial structure for decades to come. What bitcoin has needed for years is a face to legitimize it, sanitize it, make it palpable to all the naysayers. But it has no Larry Ellison, no Elon Musk, no noticeable visionaries either with or without the truth. There's a lot of ideology at stake. A lot of principle and dogma and creed. And an awful lot of cash, too. At 6:00 on a Wednesday winter morning, three months after launching Gemini, their bitcoin exchange, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss step out onto Broadway in New York, wearing the same make of sneakers, the same type of shorts, their baseball caps turned backward. They don't quite fall into the absolute caricature of twindom: They wear different-colored tops. Still, it's difficult to tell them apart, where Tyler ends and Cameron begins. Their faces are sculpted from another era, as if they had stepped from the ruin of one of Gatsby's parties. Their eyes are quick and seldom land on anything for long. Now thirty-four, there is something boyishly earnest about them as they jog down Prince Street, braiding in and out of each other, taking turns talking, as if they were working in shifts, drafting off each other. Forget, for a moment, the four things the Winklevosses are most known for: suing Mark Zuckerberg, their portrayal in The Social Network, rowing in the Beijing Olympics, and their overwhelming public twinness. Because the Winklevoss brothers are betting just about everything—including their past—on a fifth thing: They want to shake the soul of money out. At the deep end of their lives, they are athletes. Rowers. Full stop. And the thing about rowing—which might also be the thing about bitcoin—is that it's just about impossible to get your brain around its complexity. Everyone thinks you're going to a picnic. They have this notion you're out catching butterflies. They might ask you if you've got your little boater's hat ready. But it's not like that at all. You're fifteen years old. You rise in the dark. You drag your carcass along the railroad tracks before dawn. The boathouse keys are cold to the touch. You undo the ropes. You carry a shell down to the river. The carbon fiber rips at your hands. You place the boat in the water. You slip the oars in the locks. You wait for your coach. Nothing more than a thumb of light in the sky. It's still cold and the river stinks. That heron hasn't moved since yesterday. You hear Coach's voice before you see him. On you go, lads. You start at a dead sprint. The left rib's a little sore, but you don't say a thing. You are all power and no weight. The first push-to-pull in the water is a ripping surprise. From the legs first. Through the whole body. The arc. Atomic balance. A calm waiting for the burst. Your chest burns, your thighs scald, your brain blanks. It feels as if your rib cage might shatter. You are stillness exploding. You catch the water almost without breaking the surface. Coach says something about the pole vault. You like him. You really do. That brogue of his. Lads this, lads that. Fire. Stamina. Pain. After two dozen strokes, it already feels like you're hitting the wall. All that glycogen gone. Nobody knows. Nobody. They can't even pronounce it. Rowing. Ro-wing. Roh-ing. You push again, then pull. You feel as if you are breaking branch after branch off the bottom of your feet. You don't rock. You don't jolt. Keep it steady. Left, right, left, right. The heron stays still. This river. You see it every day. Nothing behind you. Everything in front. You cross the line. You know the exact tree. Your chest explodes. Your knees are trembling. This is the way the world will end, not with a whimper but a bang. You lean over the side of the boat. Up it comes, the breakfast you almost didn't have. A sign of respect to the river. You lay back. Ah, blue sky. Some cloud. Some gray. Do it again, lads. Yes, sir. You row so hard you puke it up once more. And here comes the heron, it's moving now, over the water, here it comes, look at that thing glide. ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW The Winklevoss twins in the men's pair final during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. GETTY There's plenty of gin and beer and whiskey in the Harrison Room in downtown Manhattan, but the Winklevoss brothers sip Coca-Cola. The room, one of many in the newly renovated Pier A restaurant, is all mahogany and lamplight. It is, in essence, a floating bar, jutting four hundred feet out into the Hudson River. From the window you can see the Statue of Liberty. It feels entirely like their sort of room, a Jazz Age expectation hovering around their initial appearance—tall, imposing, the hair mannered, the collars of their shirts slightly tilted—but then they just slide into their seats, tentative, polite, even introverted. They came here by subway early on a Friday evening, and they lean back in their seats, a little wary, their eyes busy—as if they want to look beyond the rehearsal of their words. They had the curse of privilege, but, as they're keen to note, a curse that was earned. Their father worked to pay his way at a tiny college in backwoods Pennsylvania coal country. He escaped the small mining town and made it all the way to a professorship at Wharton. He founded his own company and eventually created the comfortable upper-middle-class family that came with it. They were raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, the most housebroken town on the planet. They might have looked like the others in their ZIP code, and dressed like them, spoke like them, but they didn't quite feel like them. Some nagging feeling—close to anger, close to fear—lodged itself beneath their shoulders, not quite a chip but an ache. They wanted Harvard but weren't quite sure what could get them there. "You have to be basically the best in the world at something if you're coming from Greenwich," says Tyler. "Otherwise it's like, great, you have a 1600 SAT, you and ten thousand others, so what?" The rowing was a means to an end, but there was also something about the boat that they felt allowed another balance between them. They pulled their way through high school, Cameron on the port-side oar, Tyler on the starboard. They got to Harvard. The Square was theirs. They rowed their way to the national championships—twice. They went to Oxford. They competed in the Beijing Olympics. They sucked up the smog. They came in sixth place. The cameras loved them. Girls, too. They were so American, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, they could have been cast in a John Cougar Mellencamp song. It might all have been so clean-cut and whitebread except for the fact that—at one of the turns in the river—they got involved in the most public brawl in the whole of the Internet's nascent history. They don't talk about it much anymore, but they know that it still defines them, not so much in their own minds but in the minds of others. The story seems simple on one level, but nothing is ever simple, not even simplification. Theirs was the original idea for the first social network, Harvard Connection. They hired Mark Zuckerberg to build it. Instead he went off and created Facebook. They sued him. They settled for $65 million. It was a world of public spats and private anguish. Rumors and recriminations. A few years later, dusty old pre-Facebook text messages were leaked online by Silicon Alley Insider: "Yeah, I'm going to fuck them," wrote Zuckerberg to a friend. "Probably in the ear." The twins got their money, but then they believed they were duped again by an unfairly low evaluation of their stock. They began a second round of lawsuits for $180 million. There was even talk about the Supreme Court. It reeked of opportunism. But they wouldn't let it go. In interviews, they came across as insolent and splenetic, tossing their rattles out of the pram. It wasn't about the money, they said at the time, it was about fairness, reality, justice. Most people thought it was about some further agile fuckery, this time in Zuckerberg's ear. There are many ways to tell the story, but perhaps the most penetrating version is that they weren't screwed so much by Zuckerberg as they were by their eventual portrayal in the film version of their lives. They appeared querulous and sulky, exactly the type of characters that America, peeling off the third-degree burns of the great recession, needed to hate. While the rest of the country worried about mounting debt and vanishing jobs, they were out there drinking champagne from, at the very least, Manolo stilettos. The truth would never get in the way of a good story. In Aaron Sorkin's world, and on just about every Web site, the blueblood trust-fund boys got what was coming to them. And the best thing now was for them to take their Facebook money and turn the corner, quickly, away, down toward whatever river would whisk them away. Armie Hammer brilliantly portrayed them as the bluest of bloods in The Social Network. When the twins are questioned about those times now, they lean back a little in their seats, as if they've just lost a long race, a little perplexed that they came off as the victims of Hollywood's ability to throw an image, while the whole rip-roaring regatta still goes on behind them. "They put us in a box," says Cameron, "caricatured to a point where we didn't really exist." He glances around the bar, drums his finger against the glass. "That's fair enough. I understand that impulse." They smart a little when they hear Zuckerberg's name. "I don't think Mark liked being called an asshole," says Tyler, with a flick of bluster in his eyes, but then he catches himself. "You know, maybe Mark doesn't care. He's a bit of a statesman now, out there connecting the world. I have nothing against him. He's a smart guy." These are men who've been taught, or have finally taught themselves, to tell their story rather than be told by it. But underneath the calm—just like underneath the boat—one can sense the churn. They say the word—ath-letes—as if it were a country where pain is the passport. One of the things the brothers mention over and over again is that you can spontaneously crack a rib while rowing, just from the sheer exertion of the muscles hauling on the rib cage. Along came bitcoin. At its most elemental, bitcoin is a virtual currency. It's the sort of thing a five-year-old can understand—It's just e-cash, Mom—until he reaches eighteen and he begins to question the deep future of what money really means. It is a currency without government. It doesn't need a banker. It doesn't need a bank. It doesn't even need a brick to be built upon. Its supporters say that it bypasses the Man. It is less than a decade old and it has already come through its own Wild West, a story rooted in uncharted digital territory, up from the dust, an evening redness in the arithmetical West. These are men who've been taught, or have finally taught themselves, to tell their story rather than be told by it. Bitcoin appeared in 2008—westward ho!—a little dot on the horizon of the Internet. It was the brainchild of a computer scientist named Satoshi Nakamoto. The first sting in the tale is that—to this very day—nobody knows who Nakamoto is, where he lives, or how much of his own invention he actually owns. He could be Californian, he could be Australian, he could even be a European conglomerate, but it doesn't really matter, since what he created was a cryptographic system that is borderless and supposedly unbreakable. In the beginning the currency was ridiculed and scorned. It was money created from ones and zeros. You either bought it or you had to "mine" for it. If you were mining, your computer was your shovel. Any nerd could do it. You keyed your way in. By using your computer to help check and confirm the bitcoin transactions of others, you made coin. Everyone in this together. The computer heated up and mined, down down down, into the mathematical ground, lifting up numbers, making and breaking camp every hour or so until you had your saddlebags full of virtual coin. It all seemed a bit of a lark at first. No sheriff, no deputy, no central bank. The only saloon was a geeky chat room where a few dozen bitcoiners gathered to chew data. Lest we forget, money was filthy in 2008. The collapse was coming. The banks were shorting out. The real estate market was a confederacy of dunces. Bernie Madoff's shadow loomed. Occupy was on the horizon. And all those Wall Street yahoos were beginning to squirm. Along came bitcoin like some Jesse James of the financial imagination. It was the biggest disruption of money since coins. Here was an idea that could revolutionize the financial world. A communal articulation of a new era. Fuck American Express. Fuck Western Union. Fuck Visa. Fuck the Fed. Fuck the Treasury. Fuck the deregulated thievery of the twenty-first century. To the earliest settlers, bitcoin suggested a moral way out. It was a money created from the ground up, a currency of the people, by the people, for the people, with all government control extinguished. It was built on a solid base of blockchain technology where everyone participated in the protection of the code. It attracted anarchists, libertarians, whistle-blowers, cypherpunks, economists, extropians, geeks, upstairs, downstairs, left-wing, right-wing. Sure, it could be used by businesses and corporations, but it could also be used by poor people and immigrants to send money home, instantly, honestly, anonymously, without charge, with a click of the keyboard. Everyone in the world had access to your transaction, but nobody had to know your name. It bypassed the suits. All you needed to move money was a phone or a computer. It was freedom of economic action, a sort of anarchy at its democratic best, no rulers, just rules. Bitcoin, to the original explorers, was a safe pass through the government-occupied valleys: Those assholes were up there in the hills, but they didn't have any scopes on their rifles, and besides, bitcoin went through in communal wagons at night. Ordinary punters took a shot. Businesses, too. You could buy silk ties in Paris without any extra bank charges. You could protect your money in Buenos Aires without fear of a government grab. The Winklevoss twins leave the U.S. Court of Appeals in 2011, after appearing in court to ask that the previous settlement case against Facebook be voided. GETTY But freedom can corrupt as surely as power. It was soon the currency that paid for everything illegal under the sun, the go-to money of the darknet. The westward ho! became the outlaw territory of Silk Road and beyond. Heroin through the mail. Cocaine at your doorstep. Child porn at a click. What better way for terrorists to ship money across the world than through a network of anonymous computers? Hezbollah, the Taliban, the Mexican cartels. In Central America, kidnappers began demanding ransom in bitcoin—there was no need for the cash to be stashed under a park bench anymore. Now everything could travel down the wire. Grab, gag, and collect. Uranium could be paid for in bitcoin. People, too. The sex trade was turned on: It was a perfect currency for Madame X. For the online gambling sites, bitcoin was pure jackpot. For a while, things got very shady indeed. Over a couple years, the rate pinballed between $10 and $1,200 per bitcoin, causing massive waves and troughs of online panic and greed. (In recent times, it has begun to stabilize between $350 and $450.) In 2014, it was revealed that hackers had gotten into the hot wallet of Mt. Gox, a bitcoin exchange based in Tokyo. A total of 850,000 coins were "lost," at an estimated value of almost half a billion dollars. The founder of Silk Road, Ross William Ulbricht (known as "Dread Pirate Roberts"), got himself a four-by-six room in a federal penitentiary for life, not to mention pending charges for murder-for-hire in Maryland. Everyone thought that bitcoin was the problem. The fact of the matter was, as it so often is, human nature was the problem. Money means desire. Desire means temptation. Temptation means that people get hurt. During the first Gold Rush in the late 1840s, the belief was that all you needed was a pan and a decent pair of boots and a good dose of nerve and you could go out and make yourself a riverbed millionaire. Even Jack London later fell for the lure of it alongside thousands of others: the western test of manhood and the promise of wealth. What they soon found out was that a single egg could cost twenty-five of today's dollars, a pound of coffee went for a hundred, and a night in a whorehouse could set you back $6,000. A few miners hit pay dirt, but what most ended up with for their troubles was a busted body and a nasty dose of syphilis. The gold was discovered on the property of John Sutter in Sacramento, but the one who made the real cash was a neighboring merchant, Samuel Brannan. When Brannan heard the news of the gold nuggets, he bought up all the pickaxes and shovels he could find, filled a quinine bottle with gold dust, and went to San Francisco. Word went around like a prayer in a flash flood: gold gold gold. Brannan didn't wildcat for gold himself, but at the peak of the rush he was flogging $5,000 worth of shovels a day—that's $155,000 today—and went on to become the wealthiest man in California, alongside the Wells Fargo crew, Levi Strauss, and the Studebaker family, who sold wheelbarrows. If you comb back through the Winklevoss family, you will find a great-grandfather and a great-great-grandfather who knew a thing or two about digging: They worked side by side in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. They didn't go west and they didn't get rich, but maybe the lesson became part of their DNA: Sometimes it's the man who sells the shovels who ends up hitting gold. Like it or not—and many people don't like it—the Winklevoss brothers are shaping up to be the Samuel Brannans of the bitcoin world. Nine months after being portrayed in The Social Network, the Winklevoss twins were back out on the water at the World Rowing Cup. CHRISTOPHER LEE/GETTY They heard about it first poolside in Ibiza, Spain. Later it would play into the idea of ease and privilege: umbrella drinks and girls in bikinis. But if the creation myth was going to be flippant, the talk was serious. "I'd say we were cautious, but we were definitely intrigued," says Cameron. They went back home to New York and began to read. There was something about it that got under their skin. "We knew that money had been so broken and inefficient for years," says Tyler, "so bitcoin appealed to us right away." They speak in braided sentences, catching each other, reassuring themselves, tightening each other's ideas. They don't quite want to say that bitcoin looked like something that might be redemptive—after all, they, like everyone else, were looking to make money, lots of it, Olympic-sized amounts—but they say that it did strike an idealistic chord inside them. They certainly wouldn't be cozying up to the anarchists anytime soon, but this was a global currency that, despite its uncertainties, seemed to present a solution to some of the world's more pressing problems. "It was borderless, instantaneous, irreversible, decentralized, with virtually no transaction costs," says Tyler. It could possibly cut the banks out, and it might even take the knees out from under the credit-card companies. Not only that, but the price, at just under ten dollars per coin, was in their estimation low, very low. They began to snap it up. They were aware, even at the beginning, that they might, once again, be called Johnny-come-latelys, just hopping blithely on the bandwagon—it was 2012, already four years into the birth of the currency—but they went ahead anyway, power ten. Within a short time they'd spent $11 million buying up a whopping 1 percent of the world's bitcoin, a position they kept up as more bitcoins were mined, making their 1 percent holding today worth about $66 million. But bitcoin was flammable. The brothers felt the burn quickly. Their next significant investment came later that year, when they gave $1.5 million in venture funding to a nascent exchange called BitInstant. Within a year the CEO was arrested for laundering drug money through the exchange. So what were a pair of smart, clean-cut Olympic rowers doing hanging around the edges of something so apparently shady, and what, if anything, were they going to do about it? They mightn't have thought of it this way, but there was something of the sheriff striding into town, the one with the swagger and the scar, glancing up at the balconies as he comes down Main Street, all tumbleweeds and broken pianos. This place was a dump in most people's eyes, but the sheriff glimpsed his last best shot at finally getting the respect he thinks he deserves. The money shot: A good stroke will catch the water almost without breaking its seal. You stir without rippling. Your silence is sinewy. There's muscle in that calm. The violence catches underneath, thrusts the boat along. Stroke after stroke. Just keep going. Today's truth dies tomorrow. What you have to do is elemental enough. You row without looking behind you. You keep the others in front of you. As long as you can see what they're doing, it's all in your hands. You are there to out-pain them. Doesn't matter who they are, where they come from, how they got here. Know your enemy through yourself. Push through toward pull. Find the still point of this pain. Cut a melody in the disk of your flesh. The only terror comes when they pass you—if they ever pass you. There are no suits or ties, but there is a white hum in the offices of Gemini in the Flatiron District. The air feels as if it has been brushed clean. There is something so everywhereabout the place. Ergonomic chairs. iPhone portals. Rows of flickering computers. Not so much a hush around the room as a quiet expectation. Eight, nine people. Programmers, analysts, assistants. Other employees—teammates, they call them—dialing in from Portland, Oregon, and beyond. The brothers fire up the room when they walk inside. A fist-pump here, a shoulder touch there. At the same time, there is something almost shy about them. Apart, they seem like casual visitors to the space they inhabit. It is when they're together that they feel fully shaped. One can't imagine them being apart from each other for very long. The Winklevoss twins speak onstage at Bitcoin! Let's Cut Through the Noise Already at SXSW in 2016. GETTY They move from desk to desk. The price goes up, the price goes down. The phones ring. The e-mails beep. Customer-service calls. Questions about fees. Inquiries about tax structures. Gemini was started in late 2015 as a next-generation bitcoin exchange. It is not the first such exchange in the world by any means, but it is one of the most watched. The company is designed with ordinary investors in mind, maybe a hedge fund, maybe a bank: all those people who used to be confused or even terrified by the word bitcoin. It is insured. It is clean. What's so fascinating about this venture is that the brothers are risking themselves by trying to eliminate risk: keeping the boat steady and exploding through it at the same time. It is when they're together that they feel fully shaped. One can't imagine them being apart from each other for very long. For the past couple years, the Winklevosses have worked closely with just about every compliance agency imaginable. They ticked off all the regulatory boxes. Essentially they wanted to ease all the Debting Thomases. They put regulatory frameworks in place. Security and bankability and insurance were their highest objectives. Nobody was going to be able to blow open the safe. They wanted to soothe all the appetites for risk. They told Bitcoin Magazine they were asking for "permission, not forgiveness." This is where bitcoin can become normal—that is, if you want bitcoin to be normal. Just a mile or two down the road, in Soho, a half dozen bitcoiners gather at a meetup. The room is scruffy, small, boxy. A half mannequin is propped on a table, a scarf draped around it. It's the sort of place that twenty years ago would have been full of cigarette smoke. There's a bit of Allen Ginsberg here, a touch of Emma Goldman, a lot of Zuccotti Park. The wine is free and the talk is loose. These are the true believers. They see bitcoin in its clearest possible philosophical terms—the frictionless currency of the people, changing the way people move money around the world, bypassing the banks, disrupting the status quo. A comedy show is being run out in the backyard. A scruffy young man wanders in and out, announcing over and over again that he is half-baked. A well-dressed Asian girl sidles up to the bar. She looks like she's just stepped out of an NYU business class. She's interested in discovering what bitcoin is. She is regaled by a series of convivial answers. The bartender tells her that bitcoin is a remaking of the prevailing power structures. The girl asks for another glass of wine. The bartender adds that bitcoin is democracy, pure and straight. She nods and tells him that the wine tastes like cooking oil. He laughs and says it wasn't bought with bitcoin. "I don't get it," she says. And so the evening goes, presided over by Margaux Avedisian, who describes herself as the queen of bitcoin. Avedisian, a digital-currency consultant of Armenian descent, is involved in several high-level bitcoin projects. She has appeared in documentaries and on numerous panels. She is smart, sassy, articulate. When the talk turns to the Winklevoss brothers, the bar turns dark. Someone, somewhere, reaches up to take all the oxygen out of the air. Avedisian leans forward on the counter, her eyes shining, delightful, raged. "The Winklevii are not the face of bitcoin," she says. "They're jokes. They don't know what they're saying. Nobody in our community respects them. They're so one-note. If you look at their exchange, they have no real volume, they never will. They keep throwing money at different things. Nobody cares. They're not part of us. They're just hangers-on." "Ah, they're just assholes," the bartender chimes in. "What they want to do," says Avedisian, "is lobotomize bitcoin, make it into something entirely vapid. They have no clue." The Asian girl leaves without drinking her third glass of free wine. She's got a totter in her step. She doesn't quite get the future of money, but then again maybe very few in the world do. Giving testimony on bitcoin licensing before the New York State Department of Financial Services in 2014. LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS The future of money might look like this: You're standing on Oxford Street in London in winter. You think about how you want to get to Charing Cross Road. The thought triggers itself through electrical signals into the chip embedded in your wrist. Within a moment, a driverless car pulls up on the sensor-equipped road. The door opens. You hop in. The car says hello. You tell it to shut up. It does. It already knows where you want to go. It turns onto Regent Street. You think,A little more air-conditioning, please. The vents blow. You think, Go a little faster, please. The pace picks up. You think, This traffic is too heavy, use Quick(TM). The car swings down Glasshouse Street. You think, Pay the car in front to get out of my way. It does. You think, Unlock access to a shortcut. The car turns down Sherwood Street to Shaftsbury Avenue. You pull in to Charing Cross. You hop out. The car says goodbye. You tell it to shut up again. You run for the train and the computer chip in your wrist pays for the quiet-car ticket for the way home. All of these transactions—the air-conditioning, the pace, the shortcut, the bribe to get out of the way, the quick lanes, the ride itself, the train, maybe even the "shut up"—will cost money. As far as crypto-currency enthusiasts think, it will be paid for without coins, without phones, without glass screens, just the money coming in and going out of your preprogrammed wallet embedded beneath your skin. The Winklevosses are betting that the money will be bitcoin. And that those coins will flow through high-end, corporate-run exchanges like Gemini rather than smoky SoHo dives. Cameron leans across a table in a New York diner, the sort of place where you might want to polish your fork just in case, and says: "The future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet." He can't remember whom the quote belongs to, but he freely acknowledges that it's not his own. Theirs is a truculent but generous intelligence, capable of surprise and turn at the oddest of moments. They talk meditation, they talk economics, they talk Van Halen, they talk, yes, William Gibson, but everything comes around again to bitcoin. "The key to all this is that people aren't even going to know that they're using bitcoin," says Tyler. "It's going to be there, but it's not going to be exposed to the end user. Bitcoin is going to be the rails that underpin our payment systems. It's just like an IP address. We don't log on to a series of numbers, 115.425.5 or whatever. No, we log on to Google.com. In the same way, bitcoin is going to be disguised. There will be a body kit that makes it user-friendly. That's what makes bitcoin a kick-ass currency." Any fool can send a billion dollars across the world—as long as they have it, of course—but it's virtually impossible to send a quarter unless you stick it in an envelope and pay forty-nine cents for a stamp. It's one of the great ironies of our antiquated money system. And yet the quark of the financial world is essentially the small denomination. What bitcoin promises is that it will enable people and businesses to send money in just about any denomination to one another, anywhere in the world, for next to nothing. A public address, a private key, a click of the mouse, and the money is gone. A Bitcoin conference in New York City in 2014. GETTY This matters. This matters a lot. Credit-card companies can't do this. Neither can the big banks under their current systems. But Marie-Louise on the corner of Libertador Avenue can. And so can Pat Murphy in his Limerick housing estate. So can Mark Andreessen and Bill Gates and Laurene Powell Jobs. Anyone can do it, anywhere in the world, at virtually no charge. You can do it, in fact, from your phone in a diner in New York. But the whole time they are there—over identical California omelettes that they order with an ironic shrug—they never once open their phones. They come across more like the talkative guys who might buy you a drink at the sports bar than the petulants ordering bottle service in the VIP corner. The older they get, the more comfortable they seem in their contradictions: the competition, the ease; the fame, the quiet; the gamble, the sure thing. Bitcoin is what might eventually make them among the richest men in America. And yet. There is always a yet. What seems indisputable about the future of money, to the Winklevosses and other bitcoin adherents, is that the technology that underpins bitcoin—the blockchain—will become one of the fundamental tenets of how we deal with the world of finance. Blockchain is the core computer code. It's open source and peer to peer—in other words, it's free and open to you and me. Every single bitcoin transaction ever made goes to an open public ledger. It would take an unprecedented 51 percent attack—where one entity would come to control more than half of the computing power used to mine bitcoin—for hackers to undo it. The blockchain is maintained by computers all around the world, and its future sidechains will create systems that deal with contracts and stock and other payments. These sidechains could very well be the foundation of the new global economy for the big banks, the credit-card companies, and even government itself. "It's boundless," says Cameron. This is what the brothers are counting on—and what might eventually make them among the richest men in America. And yet. There is always a yet. When you delve into the world of bitcoin, it gets deeper, darker, more mysterious all the time. Why has its creator remained anonymous? Why did he drop off the face of the earth? How much of it does he own himself? Will banks and corporations try to bring the currency down? Why are there really only five developers with full "commit access" to the code (not the Winklevosses, by the way)? Who is really in charge of the currency's governance? Perhaps the most pressing issue at hand is that of scaling, which has caused what amounts to a civil war among followers. A maximum block size of one megabyte has been imposed on the chain, sort of like a built-in artificial dampener to keep bitcoin punk rock. That's not nearly enough capacity for the number of transactions that would take place in future visions. In years to come, there could be massive backlogs and outages that could create instant financial panic. Bitcoin's most influential leaders are haggling over what will happen. Will bitcoin maintain its decentralized status, or will it go legit and open up to infinite transactions? And if it goes legit, where's the punk? The issues are ongoing—and they might very well take bitcoin down, but the Winklevosses don't think so. They have seen internal disputes before. They've refrained from taking a public stance mostly because they know that there are a lot of other very smart people in bitcoin who are aware that crisis often builds consensus. "We're in this for the long haul," says Tyler. "We're the first batter in the first inning." GILLIAN LAUB The waiter comes across and asks them, bizarrely, if they're twins. They nod politely. Who was born first? They've heard it a million times and their answer is always the same: Neither of them—they were born cesarean. Cameron looks older, says the waiter. Tyler grins. Normally it's the other way around, says Cameron, grinning back. Do you ever fight? asks the waiter. Every now and then, they say. But not over this, not over the future. Heraclitus was wrong. You can, in fact, step in the same river twice. In the beginning you went to the shed. No electricity there, no heat, just a giant tub where you simulated the river. You could only do eleven strokes. But there was something about the repetition, the difference, even the monotony, that hooked you. After a while it wasn't an abandoned shed anymore. College gyms, national training centers. Bigger buildings. High ceilings. AC. Doctors and trainers. Monitors hooked up to your heart, your head, your blood. Six foot five, but even then you were not as tall as the other guys. You liked the notion of underdog. Everyone called you the opposite. The rich kids. The privileged ones. To hell with that. They don't know us, who we are, where we came from. Some of the biggest chips rest on the shoulders of those with the least to lose. Six foot five times two makes just about thirteen feet. You sit in the erg and you stare ahead. Day in, day out. One thousand strokes, two thousand. You work with the very best. You even train with the Navy SEALs. It touches that American part of you. The sentiment, the false optimism. When the oil fields are burning, you even think, I'll go there with them. But you stay in the boat. You want that other flag rising. That's what you aim for. You don't win but you get close. Afterward there are planes, galas, regattas, magazine spreads, but you always come back to that early river. The cold. The fierceness. The heron. Like it or not, you're never going to get off the water—that's just the fact of the matter, it's always going to be there. Hard to admit it, but once you were wrong. You got out of the boat and you haggled over who made it. You lost that one, hard. You might lose this one, too, but then again it just might be the original arc that you're stepping toward. So you return, then. You rise before dark. You drag your carcass along Broadway before dawn. All the rich men in the world want to get shot into outer space. Richard Branson. Jeff Bezos. Elon Musk. The new explorers. To get the hell out of here and see if they—and maybe we—can exist somewhere else for a while. It's the story of the century. We want to know if the pocket of the universe can be turned inside out. We're either going to bring all the detritus of the world upward with us or we're going to find a brand-new way to exist. The cynical say that it's just another form of colonization—they're probably right, but then again maybe it's our only way out. The Winklevosses have booked their tickets—numbers 700 and 701—on Branson's Virgin Galactic. Although they go virtually everywhere together, the twins want to go on different flights because of the risk involved: Now that they're in their mid-thirties, they can finally see death, or at least its rumor. It's a boy's adventure, but it's also the outer edge of possibility. It cost a quarter of a million dollars per seat, and they paid for it, yes, in bitcoin. Of course, up until recently, the original space flights all splashed down into the sea. One of the ships that hauled the Gemini space capsule out of the water in 1965 was the Intrepid aircraft carrier. The Winklevosses no longer pull their boat up the river. Instead they often run five miles along the Hudson to the Intrepid and back. The destroyer has been parked along Manhattan's West Side for almost as long as they have been alive. It's now a museum. The brothers like the boat, its presence, its symbolism: Intrepid, Gemini, the space shot. They ease into the run.
Bitcoin is a currency protocol, not just a currency
Bitcoin allows for escrow-like services where up to 3 people need to approve a transaction
They asked everyone how many people owned at least a single Bitcoin and about 50% of the room raised their hands. They asked how many people used Bitcoin to purchase something and only about 10 people (out of ~250) raised their hands
Bitcoin is worth 'how useful it is in the transfer of value...'
The people who drove Bitcoin from 50M to 500M were people who appreciated the anonymity
3rd phase (current) are people who are interested in BTC as more a traditional payment model
BitPay (one of the presenters) said part of attractiveness of BTC is that for people like Wordpress who can't take payments for 2/3rds of the world but now can.
$503 is average transaction size for BitPay (3x Amazon)
BTC safer for international transaction as credit cards were designed in 1950s and not good for the Web.
Credit cards ripe with fraud, but BTC has it's own set of challenges like volatility.
Question from some t-shirt ecommerce guy whose question was 3 minutes long: 'blah blah why should I use BTC'?.Answer: there is an opportunity for developing countries to skip credit cards and go right to math based currencies
Question 'what are your thoughts on private key security'. Answer: Don't put all your BTC in the same place.
Question 'we sell sex toys, how do retailers begin to accept BTC' Answer: go to bitpay.com
Question 'how do we solve the uhh ...ruin um credit cards don't like BTC so uh what do we do?' Answer: There's no way around banks, but this is a technology that can't be stopped without stopping the internet. Answer 2: Just wait.
Question: 'what consumer protections do you see from the industry in the future. Answer: Yes, the government protects your funds, but when the government spends more money, you're money is worth less.
Question: 'my friend wants to buy a bunch of mining equipment - good idea?' answer: no
Question: ' none of the benefits of btc affect a consumer. how do we overcome that?'. Answer: There are lots of advantages to a consumer namely price savings passed along to customer
Question (inaudible) Answer: What the solution comes out of the Mt Gox debacle is unknown but people are demanding a solution. Answer 2: People make financial decisions based on the party they are transacting with
Great question. This was the inception of Gravitas and tells a really great story of how close the bass music community is. I found Tyler Chase, Cryptex, on The Glitch Hop Forum which was started by Dewey DB and run by ill-esha and a few other glitch hop OGs. Cryptex had posted some of his first reglitches on the site and I ended up playing a few when I opened for Skrillex and PantyRaid at the Austin Music Hall. I posted that mix back to the forum and we ended up chatting over instant messenger about his music and our philosophy on music.
The philosophy behind releasing almost all our music for free came from a conversation I had with edIT in 2010. Basically, he said, I know some people are going to download our music for free, some are going to buy it from iTunes and some are going to want to buy a shirt, record and CD of the album. It hit me that what all the artists and myself wanted was for as many people as possible to hear the music. Rather than asking people to buy the tunes and see if they liked it, why not give it to them for free and if they enjoy it, they'll likely donate on the next go around.
Long answer, it all happens very organically. The music scene and business is really just a bunch of personal connections and friendships. Having a crew of talented DJs and producers helps so much. We are always sharing music, checking out each others mixes, doing A+R, and looking for the next dope sound or producer. Myself, Psymbionic, ONE4ALL, Galvanix, Jason Torres, and The Digital Connection review demos.
In the end, I make the final decision because I personally invest money into each release that comes out.
Our goal is for the label to be something like a Ninja Tune or Warp Records. Less of a genre or sound and more of an esthetic.
Of course, we have a social media presence, but really, our focus is building our email list so that we can have a direct connection with the people that want our music. Email isn't going to go away and isn't a trend. It may change over time, but pretty much everyone I know checks their email at least once a day.
Facebook and twitter are more for a conversation. We don't want that to be our sole means of promotion. We want those channels to be funny, interesting and list, in a smart way, the most important events that we are involved in.
Answered this question a bit already but I'll give you some more details. We're finding that the "Pay What You Want" model is absolutely brilliant. Of course, the music has to be good and it really helps if the artist has a solid fan base. Since it's "free", people don't feel bad about sharing the music and we don't have to spend a bunch of time, money and energy trying to lock it up. For anyone on our email list, which is something that we've worked really hard to grow, they will get pushed to our bandcamp and get the music for free.
We still send our tunes to iTunes, Beatport and all the rest of the digital retailers. We want the music to be ubiquitous. But with the retailers taking anywhere from 30-50%, it's just makes better sense to take donations from Bandcamp at 10-15%.
Overall, Gravitas is making money and most of the artists that have had releases with us have nothing but good things to say and have seen their bookings increase because of the exposure.
I can say enough about The Do Lab and what they have created. They are one my big inspirations. The true spirit of events like Burning Man and Burning Flipside (Austin's regional burn) are really important. Participation vs. Spectator. Being a part of something is so much more fun and rewarding then paying $80 to walk up to stage and watch a real life movie.
If we were to do anything like that, it would be way more participation based then a typical festival.
The lines are really blurring for me. We're definitely not 100% glitch hop label. A lot of us love that sound but there are parts of the crew that only play house or are all about future beat / drum and bass. We want to avoid getting labeled with any one genre.
To answer your question, I think Glitch Hop will continue to thrive and evolve. Acts like Tipper have cult like followings. I don't think it's going to blow up like trap but I do think it will have a healthy scene around it for a good long time.
He's getting online shortly. I can answer this. There was another band called "Wonder Years" and they had the copyright. It would have been a bad situation later down the road so he chose to make the switch before he took off which seems like is about to happen any day now.
I'm 32, about to be 33, and I've been playing music and working in the industry since I was 15. Honestly, I'm still not happy with my production as I don't dedicate the time to it that I would like to. That said, I have a ton of fun doing all the other parts of the music industry. I think there is a lesson there. There are lots of roles to play if you want to be in the scene or business and maybe don't click as a producer. Also, life is long, you may be a producer or DJ in your twenties and then want to own a studio or do mastering in your 30s and run a label in your 40s.
I don't think of them as competitors. There is loads of people, ears and music to go around. I think we've carved out a really cool niche for ourselves. I know the owners of labels like Muti, Simplify and Street Ritual. We share knowledge and a lot of artists work with us all. It's crazy what a small scene it really is. I can think of a couple situations where we chose not to do something because we didn't want to step on anyone's toes. We're the new kids on the block and know enough to respect those that came before and to try to set an example for those that come later.
The Digital Connection is up in Denver and will be playing Sonic Bloom. He's hooked into their scene. We know and respect them and I think you'll see more Gravitas artists there in the coming years. Somatoast would be my bet for the next artist to get their nod.
I'd have to say ill-esha is by far the sexiest. :) It's not even about looks either, confidence and talent are what make a person "sexy". Watch this and you will know exactly what I mean: Link to www.youtube.com
That is awesome that you say that. That is truly where our heads are at. I mentioned this in a few ways already but I want artists that can stand on their own two feet without a label. We come in and back them up with marketing. In return, they bring their fan base to us and the other artists benefit and earn new listeners. It's also, not a demand, but a gentle rule that you will support your fellow artists in their social media and real lives. In that sense, we are a creative collective and crew.
In regards to being a brand, yes, that is what Gravitas is. It should speak to you and in some way convey meaning, thought, depth, and integrity. Those are hard things to totally lock down in language but I believe you can hear that in our music. If people even get a whiff of that vibe from us then I'm a happy man.
In regards to free releases, I'm a student of the Internet. I have worked in tech jobs as an account manager, online and email marketing and webmaster. I love the Internet and there are new models of business that have never existed until the advent of digital media. Files can be shared and copied with a simple mouse click. We're not going to fight that, we're going to take advantage of it. We believe that the free sharing of the music is the first step of any relationship with a potential person / fan / customer. We want you to dig our stuff. We want you to share it. We want to play shows, collaborate, travel and see the world. And we ask that if you like our music, donate to help pay for costs and tell your friends about us.
There is talks of putting together an official artist management and booking agency. Both those ideas need to be separate from Gravitas though for legal reasons and to avoid conflict of interests. That said, the idea is to really back and artist from start to finish. 360 deal for independent artists.
We're really just a group of people who love music. If we had to give titles, I'd be Owner / President, Psymbionic is VP and helps almost everyday with strategy and A+R. Jason Torres handles all things visual. ONE4ALL, Galvanix, Kendall Clark, The Digital Connection, Mike Abb and others help a ton with A+R and promotions. We're a big team and very "flat" as far as structure goes.
A few of us are doing music full time. I run Gravitas and another business full time from my house. Others are working day jobs and putting as much time into music as possible. ill-esha gave me some great advice recently about this, you'll know when the time to jump full time into music is. It's scary for sure, but there is nothing else like pursuing your dreams full on.
For sure. When I started Gravitas, I was working full time for a technology company and making a healthy salary. I put a lot of money into each release. I was laid off from my job and we were forced to take a look at the costs and cut back. Honestly, that was the best thing that could have happened.
I'd say this, there is definitely an initial investment needed to get the brand of your label out there. You need to be consistent with quality, especially right at first. Paying an established producer an upfront fee, can help to get the label's name out there more and earn some credibility.
We all play locally or tour nationally. We've done some paid projection mapping gigs for brands as well. Also,you would be surprised at how much people will donate when given the chance. Rough stats, 1 in 10 people usually donate and when they do it's at least a few bucks and sometimes $20. It's a really interesting psychological experiment.
Ill-esha is AMAzing. :) Austin is great. It's a true scene at this point. The city is maturing and so is the scene. Loads of great things happening at this point. Disco Donnie Presents had the scene hostage for a number of years, they kept a lot of smaller promoters out and down while losing tons of money and booking the same 30 djs. Those days are over in Austin. We have several independent promoters that are doing solid shows on the regular. The most unexpected thing to happen was having people respond so positively and for projects to take off. We're in our little bubble so seeing people truly get excited about a Mr. Bill remix contest or ill-esha album puts the biggest fucking smile on my face.
Absolutely bizarre that you posted this. Our very own, Nikki Hampson, designer of the Gravitas logo and Virtus In Sonus artwork, made that poster. It's for sale in our merch shop. Maybe that's where you got it but doesn't look like it.
Our March 8th discussion with moderator Jo Ling Kent was a chance to share our mission — to help build the future of money — and ... the entire SXSW ... in bitcoin (and even fewer knew much ... I confronted this in my 2017 novel Bitcoin Hurricane, imagining a near future where digital and fiat currencies trade side by side in the money markets, and banks still have a role to play in our lives. Austin’s SXSW festival this year featured for the first time a Blockchain and Cryptocurrency track. Speakers and attendees from keynotes to ... Crypto currency, in particular Bitcoin, is transforming financial services. What does the future hold for the next couple of years? The number of bitcoin and virtual currency startups on Angel List has nearly doubled in the last six months to ~500. Will technologists exert greater and greater control over the financial ecosystem? If bitcoin becomes main stream, many of these startups will ... Bitcoin has slumped 80 percent from its high during the cryptocurrency investment craze, but two prominent backers told an audience at South by Southwest on Friday that the future of digital coins ... Is Bitcoin the Future of Money? Met die vraag werd de ‘featured session’ aangekondigd op SXSW Interactive, waar ik namens Enrise voor de derde keer naar af mocht reizen. Ik verwachtte in die sessie een helder antwoord of bevestiging te krijgen van deze belangrijke vraag. Inderdaad, ik ben een Bitcoin enthousiast. Helaas niet sinds het begin ...
Ep. 24: Is Bitcoin the Future of Money? (with Timothy B. Lee)
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss believe 2015 is the year of infrastructure for Bitcoin. That's why they have been hard at work on Gemini.com, a US-based bitcoin exchange, and COIN, their bitcoin ETF ... BUSINESS ACCELERATOR - Starting soon: https://londonreal.tv/biz/ 2021 SUMMIT TICKETS: https://londonreal.tv/summit/ NEW MASTERCLASS EACH WEEK: http://londonr... It's a digital form of money that only exists in cyberspace, sent globally from one computer to another. You can buy Bitcoin online. The currency is then stored in a digital wallet on your computer. Everyone seems to be talking about Bitcoin these days. But just what is Bitcoin—and what are cryptocurrencies in general? How do they work? Are they money? Will we all be sending and receiving ... https://goo.gl/Fvzsmu It's hard to deny that Bitcoin is changing the way we use money, and our concept of how currency should work.