Why did one of TechCrunch’s longest-serving editors leave a media giant for a bitcoin startup?
For outgoing East Coast editor John Biggs, the answer is that he’s been leading one already in his spare time for the last year. Peer-to-peer payments startup Freemit has been Biggs’ passion project since December 2014, and the company has since raised more than $150,000 from angel investors, according to data from Crunchbase.
Still, Biggs is just now making the leap to Freemit full-time, leaving his job late last month at a company he’d been with for nearly 10 years. According to Biggs, it was now or never.
"I basically quit because I knew that, first off startups are either time consuming or they’re not, and if you don’t make them time-consuming, you lose focus. I figured it’s time for a bit more hustle, it’s time for more focus," he told CoinDesk.
Biggs suggested his departure was due to his confidence in the Freemit product, the team that built it and the size of the opportunity he believes the bitcoin industry has to disrupt financial incumbents.
"We're in a bind, right now, because banks aren’t going to change to support the things we want them to support, especially faster cross-border payments. They already make a lot of money, and are quote-unquote good at it. My concern is they’re going to keep status quo until someone changes that status quo."
In interview, Biggs went on to suggest that the move is likely to precede a period of more frequent announcements from the stealth startup, which he said could soon open to users.
Biggs said Freemit could open to an initial batch of as many as 7,000 beta users this month as part of what he called a "staged rollout".
He indicated that Freemit is watching the ongoing block size debate, and that the uncertainties surrounding potential changes to bitcoin’s transaction capacity could be a factor in such decision-making, although he doesn’t see a long-term issue with the current state of the network.
Further, he defended the technology in face of new criticism, stating that the debates ensnaring the bitcoin community are comparable to challenges faced, and ultimately overcome, by early Internet innovators.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Biggs is bullish on Freemit’s ability to emerge as a major disruptive startup not just in bitcoin, but in FinTech.
To hit a larger target market, he said Freemit won’t emphasize denominating transactions in bitcoin as a currency, instead targeting new users who may be more familiar with traditional banking products and online payment startups such as PayPal.
"The big difference is we’re a hybrid model," Biggs said. "Most of the team has worked in banks, so they're well versed in how those systems work. Instead of going bitcoin first, we're connecting multiple paths until bitcoin becomes liquid."
Biggs described this approach as contrary to the industry’s best-funded cross-border bitcoin payments startup, Abra, which has raised $14m in venture capital to date.
Abra uses a network of 'tellers' who serve to take the place of physical kiosks. Biggs lauded the model as an "Uber for cash", but suggested that Freemit will not take a similar approach to its service prioritizing "fiat in, fiat out" money movement.
To start, Biggs said Freemit intends to target international students and younger payments product users, comparing the functionality to that of Align Commerce, which helps small businesses send fiat transactions abroad using the blockchain.
Overall, Biggs expressed enthusiasm at his changing role in the tech industry, nothing that he's followed entrepreneurs for years in his TechCrunch role where he joined less than a year after the publication began.
Biggs said that he sees his past experience in media as an asset to the startup, and that so far, he hasn’t had trouble making the transition to his CEO role.
"I think the experience of managing a distributed team and my media savvy is going to be useful," he said.
He added that certain aspects, such as raising funding, were "less fun" than he expected them to be, but that his family and friends are supportive of the transition.
"Nobody’s said that I’m stupid to do it," Biggs said. "My wife is even OK with it."
For his part, Biggs has been a vocal supporter of the industry, driving coverage of the industry at TechCrunch and contributing posts about his experiences on the funding trail to CoinDesk.
Biggs suggested he'll continue to blog for TechCrunch as he builds out the startup, but that he is already learning to love his entrepreneur role, concluding:
"I can understand why people can get addicted to it."
John Biggs image via TechCrunch