California-based accelerator 500 Startups has announced plans to invest in bitcoin-related companies.
The company also trumpeted that is bringing on a high-profile partner to help facilitate that effort: Sean Percival – former vice president of MySpace and internet entrepreneur focused on consumer marketing.
“I’m joining 500 as a venture partner with a focus on bitcoin,” Percival told CoinDesk.
Passion for bitcoin
The incubator, which has its base in Mountain View, San Francisco, is currently taking applications for its next batch of startups. Percival says that they are looking for around three to five bitcoin companies within a total of 30 startups for its next class.
The companies will get seed funding and office space, in addition to other support. Percival will be investing his own money in some of the bitcoin-centric ideas.
“I will be making [a variety of] investments, but the majority of investments I’m focused on are bitcoin-related. That’s been a passion for me for about a year and a half now,” he said.
“I know there’s a lot of good, early stage ideas out there.”
“I will be looking for early stage bitcoin companies that either want to join the accelerator or, maybe at a later stage, that want to receive an investment from 500 Startups,” he said.
Percival also plans on casting a wide net in terms of finding cryptocurrency companies in need of venture capital. The search doesn’t necessarily pertain only to new bitcoin startups.
The relationship between 500 Startups and Percival has been bubbling along for a while. Now, though, the two sides have decided to officially team up and bring even more marketing prowess to early stage companies.
“I’ve been working with [500 Startups] for a year now, in sort of a part-time role. […] I’ve basically been working with our portfolio companies, helping them understand marketing,” he said.
“They are very early stage companies, so it’s a lot of the basics.”
Percival pointed out that he already has experience with a bitcoin-related company – working with Blockchain.info on marketing and consumer-adoption projects.
“I also do some work at Blockchain. Basically, I’m sort of a marketing advisor.”
Percival is convinced that a more mainstream approach to marketing is necessary for bitcoin acceptance.
“Right now, the majority of marketing is being done to a small group of early adopters. Outside of that, consumer interest is continuing to grow this year, so the industry needs to prepare for that.”
New York vs Silicon Valley?
Until now, banking recalcitrance has been a thorn in the side of many bitcoin startups, but Percival feels like that issue will be resolved very soon.
“It feels like we’re getting really close. We have Wells Fargo, that’s engaging in the community, we have these hearings going on,” he said.
“I do believe that, in 2014, there will be the regulation needed so these companies can easily get that bank account and actually operate like a company.”
Many of the financial technology developers are based in New York, but some of them, he said, may prove amenable to joining a startup in Northern California, in order to stake a place in the bitcoin revolution.
“In the New York tech scene, a lot of engineers want to move over to startups, but their skill set is not a match,“ Percival said.
“This may be a case where their financial programming skill set is going to be a great match for bitcoin companies.”
Building the ecosystem
Getting the average person up and running with bitcoin should be a popular business idea in the startup space. That is something 500 Startups is specifically looking for.
“We’re looking for things that ease the on ramp of user adoption and consumer adoption. Right now, it’s a little bit tough,” said Percival.
“Encryption, the managing of passwords and two-factor authentication – these are sort of difficult for the average person to jump on board with.”
Concepts that build off the blockchain itself are also an area that Percival feels are worth investing in.
“Anyone that’s really leveraging the technology of the public ledger of the blockchain to do something different, that’s something I’m very interested in.”
Percival says that he came across bitcoin over a year and a half ago and had an epiphany. “It was one of those moments where I just realized that this was technology that was going to change the world,” he said.
“We now have billions of users online or with a phone. This industry is going to be just like the internet boom, but much, much faster. I’m just very excited to kind of build of the ecosystem and be at the ground floor.”
The application gateway for 500 Startups’ next batch of young companies can be found on AngelList.
Bitcoin-focused businesses are, of course, encouraged to get in touch.