The Winklevoss brothers have revealed plans for a fully-regulated US bitcoin exchange called Gemini, saying they will be financing the venture from their own pockets.
The company, named after the Latin word and zodiac sign for twins, as well as NASA's precursor to the moon-shot Apollo program, promises to be a "next-generation bitcoin exchange".
Gemini is aimed squarely at the sensibilities of individual and institutional US customers who have had reservations about bitcoin's legitimacy or are reluctant to wire money overseas to obtain it.
Appeal for US investors
The exchange is "New York born and bred", according to its website, and works only with American banks so "your dollars never leave the country".
Compliance is also a key marketing feature. The site promises the company will launch "in full compliance with all bitcoin regulations and consumer protection laws".
The brothers have hired engineers from top hedge funds and built at least relationship with a New York State-chartered bank, according to The New York Times.
Gemini is also touted as a "security-first" exchange to allay investor fears that bitcoin is vulnerable to hackers.
Cameron Winkevoss wrote on the company blog:
"It’s true that bitcoin's promise is a new, frictionless money, but that all becomes academic if we don't build towards an ecosystem that is free of hacking, fraud and security breaches."
Chief compliance officer for the new exchange is Michael Breu, former head of information security in the research department at hedge fund Bridgewater Associates. Chief security officer Cem Paya comes from the same position at Airbnb.
Due to its banking partnership, dollars kept on Gemini will be eligible for FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) insurance and are as "safe and secure as they are in your bank account today", the exchange claims.
The staff lineup of about a dozen people, mostly engineers, are country-wide but work mainly from the offices of Winklevoss Capital near Madison Square Park. Only the final approval of the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) is needed before Gemini can open for business.
The Winklevosses, believed to be among the largest holders of bitcoin in the world, have been promising to jump into the bitcoin business as soon as regulatory conditions were favorable.
Since 2013, the twins have been building an exchange-traded fund (ETF) called the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust, intended to trade on NASDAQ and for which they have filed a registration with the Securites and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Winklevoss Capital has also launched a bitcoin price index called the 'WinkDex' to price the ETF, which made its debut on Bloomberg in July last year.
It's not the twins' first venture into bitcoin exchanges. Via Winklevoss Capital, they also led a $1.5m seed funding round for BitInstant, the company founded by Charlie Shrem.
Upon Shrem's arrest in January 2014, the brothers issued a statement saying they were "passive investors" in BitInstant and "fully support any and all governmental efforts to ensure that money laundering requirements are enforced, and look forward to clearer regulation being implemented on the purchase and sale of bitcoins".
US flag and dollars image via Shutterstock