At 17 years old, Louison Dumont is the youngest-ever entrepreneur to be accepted into Boost VC, the California incubator that has so far nurtured five batches of mostly bitcoin startups, but he's not short on experience.
Having started mining bitcoin at the age of 13, Dumont boasts more maturity than many in the still-nascent industry (your correspondent included), peppering his conversation with signs of his veteran status and allusions to the tribulations of trading (most of his early bitcoins were unfortunately sold in the $20-$30 range).
Dumont, for example, recalls a time when you could mine bitcoin with your GPU and still make a profit, and laughs often when discussing his early attempts to secure unwanted graphics cards from sometimes indifferent friends and relatives.
"I told my parents about bitcoin because I needed money to buy bitcoins on Mt Gox, so for a few weeks I was like 'Please give me money,'" he said. "At the beginning it was very noisy, but I was mining a lot of bitcoins."
Today, Dumont is the brains behind Bitproof, one of 24 startups living and working full time at the Boost VC complex in San Mateo. His latest project is a sign of an evolving interest in the space, one that has migrated from speculation to what he considers to be more noble pursuits.
Dumont told CoinDesk:
"Trading is a good way to make money, but it's not very useful. I wanted to do something useful and I had this idea that we can use the blockchain to transfer the ownership of anything."
Bitproof allows users to certify documents through a simple interface that then proves their existence and ownership, the second part of which Dumont contends is an improvement over previous iterations of the idea, like Proof of Existence.
"With that, if you share the file, you know the file exists, but you have no way to prove who created the file," he explained. "This does ownership, so if you share the file you're also still the owner."
More surprising than his age may be the story behind Dumont's entrance into Boost VC, which seems to have been propelled by coincidence or perhaps serves as proof that despite its global Internet presence, bitcoin is still a small community.
At the age of 16, Dumont just happened to have applied for a Thiel Fellowship, and just happened to decide to travel by himself to a summit of other applicants.
"I met a guy who was in Boost, I went to Boost and met [co-founder] Brayton [Williams] and [CEO] Adam [Draper]. It was very natural, I didn't know anything about Boost," he said.
Though he didn't have a deck or presentation, he had already started to code. Whatever the status of Bitproof at the time, Williams and Draper quickly told him to apply and soon he was on his way to San Francisco.
Right now, however, things aren't picture perfect, at least in the sense that Dumont has hit a bit of a roadblock with Bitproof. Demo Day is six weeks away, yet he's not really sure how he's going to present the product onstage.
On one hand, the technology is already tried and tested, on the other, business development remains a pressing hurdle.
Users can already certify files and protect ideas, transferring the documents through integrations with Box, Dropbox and Google Drive.
But, a key question for Dumont remains, which demographic is most likely to take to Bitproof?
"I'm going to try to think about it now. It's very hard to change the way people think. It's a big challenge to make them use the technology they don't trust," he said, echoing the likely unspoken concerns of many other companies in the space.
Finding a use case
That's not to say Dumont doesn't believe people will use Bitproof. Designers and developers who want to certify ownership of their work as a means of on-the-job protection are the most likely candidates, Dumont said.
"It can be very useful for people who do freelance work, and they want that client to pay. You can say I did this and gave it to my client, so he must pay. And if he doesn't, you can say I have created that," he explained.
For now, he's seeking strategic partnerships while trying to figure out his next move. Without a visa - a difficult task, he says, without a college degree - Dumont believes it's possible he'll have to return to France to work in the bitcoin industry.
He also still codes on the side, throwing together Merkle.io, a blockchain search engine in one night over the course of the interview.
Still, he's optimistic he won't have to return to his hometown of Blois (there's only around 15 people into bitcoin in all of France after all, he quips), and that securing investment for Bitproof might be the best available avenue.
"If we succeed it's going to be huge," he said. "I'm going to try to find a way."
This article has been certified in the bitcoin blockchain via Bitproof.
Images via Bitproof