The Plug and Play Tech Center startup incubator and accelerator recently hosted its Winter EXPO, with 28 startup pitches, a virtual currency panelist discussion and over 100 investors and corporations.
The virtual currency panel, dubbed the “Future of Fintech”, was primarily focused on bitcoin. This was particularly relevant, as the audience had just witnessed 11 bitcoin startups pitching their business plans to investors.
Low risk payments and foreign banks
Vinny Lingham of Gyft started the session by talking investors through the primary reasons why his gift card business started utilizing bitcoin.
“It’s a low-risk method of payment,” said Lingham.
He compared bitcoin to credit card transactions, which can be problematic for a number of reasons. This is especially true with so many different countries operating with different credit card companies.
“How do you trust a credit card from a foreign bank?” he asked.
David Chen is an Associate Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, which recently led an investment of $5m in the exchange BTC China. He believes that it is still early days for virtual currencies like BTC.
“We’re still in the infrastructure-building stage,” he said.
And when asked about the current state of bitcoin in China, given the recent central banking news there, he declined to offer any elaboration, saying: “I think it’s dangerous for us to speculate.”
Tip of the iceberg
Chris Larsen is CEO of payment platform Ripple, which he called a “universal joint” for virtual currencies. He echoed the sentiment that BTC is just the beginning of something completely new.
“Virtual currencies are really the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
It’s the concepts that these currencies bring to the table that are so exciting for financial technologies in the future. Larsen cited the confirmation of financial transactions without a central clearing house and a solution to the double-spend problem as the two biggest innovations that bitcoin has brought to market.
Jean-Jacques Cabou, a partner at law firm Perkins Coie, said that over the next few years the issues of navigating regulatory compliance in virtual currencies “will decrease”. He made it clear that any virtual currency-related business should be very transparent.
“If your bank doesn’t know you’re a bitcoin business, that’s a red flag,” said Cabou.
David Johnston, who angel invests in virtual currency projects through BitAngels, said that distributed infrastructure is what he is most interested in.
He cited a paper that he recently wrote about the disruptive qualities that distributed systems could present in the future.
He said that 2014 would consist of funding in “infrastructure level investments: Mastercoin, distributed exchange and distributed commerce”.
The complete panel listing at the fintech session of the Plug and Play EXPO was as follows:
Vinny Lingham, co-founder and CEO of Gyft,
David Chen, associate partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners,
Chris Larsen, founder and CEO of Ripple,
Jean-Jacques Cabou, partner at Perkins Cole, LLP
David Johnston, executive director of BitAngels.
The session was moderated by Adam B. Levine of Let’s Talk Bitcoin.