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Bitcoin Startup 21 Announces $116 Million All-Star Backing

(@joonian) | Published on March 10, 2015 at 16:41 GMT
News

Stealth bitcoin startup 21 Inc, formerly 21e6, has announced new information about its funding history, staff members and investors, revealing it has raised $116m in fundraising over multiple rounds.

In a new interview with the Wall Street Journal, 21 CEO Matthew Pauker indicated that Andreessen Horowitz, Data Collective, Khosla Ventures, RRE Ventures and Yuan Capital are among the firms that have participated in the company’s funding rounds.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston; eBay co-founder Jeff Skoll; Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi; PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel and Max Levchin; and Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus have also invested in the startup.

Perhaps most notable is the involvement of Qualcomm Ventures, the venture capital subsidiary of the global semiconductor company that designs and markets wireless telecommunication products.

Pauker told the news source that 21 aims to leverage Qualcomm’s production capabilities to develop a suite of undisclosed products to be released in the coming months.

Co-founder Balaji Srinivasan, a partner at VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, compared the ambitions of the project to the development of 56-kilobit Internet modems and wireless Internet towers, suggesting a long-term vision that helps bring bitcoin to consumer households.

The figure would top the $106.7m raised by Coinbase to date through its four public funding rounds. 21 raised $5m in venture capital in 2013 as 21e6.

Job openings hint at 21's products

The new firm's website lists 18 jobs that it is seeking to fill, ranging from an 'ASIC design engineer' to a business development executive for hardware, offering a glimpse into the startup's plans.

The job description for the business development role, for example, asks for candidates who want to "conceptualise and execute the deals that will make bitcoin happen at the hardware layer".

The ad for a 'PCB designer' (the acronym stands for 'printed circuit board'), wants applicants who work with teams within the company and customers outside the company on "integrating our technology into novel bitcoin-related products".

Taking the details from the Journal article together with the job ads, 21 could be working on a hardware technology at the intersection of mobile devices and bitcoin storage, said one observer of the bitcoin sector, Antonis Polemitis.

Qualcomm role is key

Polemitis, a managing director of investment firm Ledra Capital and a teacher of the University of Nicosia's online course on digital currencies, said:

"If you're doing hardware and talking about general consumers, you've got to imagine they're thinking of a hardware wallet. We're still at the level of early modems where you have to fiddle with the com ports to make them work. If you messed up then, you just couldn't connect to the internet, but if you mess up with bitcoin, you lose all your money. So presumably we're looking at some kind of simplification."

Polemitis points to Qualcomm's involvement as a sign that mobile technologies could be at the heart of 21's endeavour.

"Qualcomm is primarily in mobile technologies, so maybe you could make a phone with a built-in hardware bitcoin wallet. In the same way you where Apple Pay's security isn't dependent on the user doing 27 complicated things, it's simply dependent on turning on your phone," he said.

Qualcomm makes the Snapdragon processors that power mobile devices from Samsung, Sony, HTC and other major manufacturers.

For Polemitis, the size of 21's fundraising total also suggests that development of the bitcoin ecosystem is continuing in earnest.

He said:

"This is a pretty confident bet on the bitcoin space ... you now have a core group of capital providers who are absolutely sold that this is going to be a huge area of development over the next 20 years. They're starting to find the vehicles in which they can place significant bets on the space."

Image via Shutterstock

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