As 2013 drew to a close, investment in the bitcoin ecosystem began to gain serious momentum, with Circle and Coinbase reaping multimillion-dollar funding rounds that drove total venture capital (VC) funding in the space past $80m.
Since then, momentum has undoubtedly slowed. Yet, new releases show that, behind the scenes, VC interest in bitcoin remains high.
VC firms such as Argentina-based Quasar Ventures and Denmark-based Sunstone Capital have both released new presentations that, while focused on explaining the basics of virtual currencies, suggest VCs are looking seriously at bitcoin investments, and are in the midst of considering where investment can best be applied.
“The railroads of a new economy are being built right now, so we are excited to build the next big bitcoin companies and lead the transition to early adopters and beyond.”
If Quasar Ventures was bullish about bitcoin, Sunstone Capital’s presentation provided potential evidence as to why. It suggested that the price of 1 BTC could eventually be worth $34,000 should bitcoin grow to account for even 1% of the global money supply. This estimate joins other notably optimistic estimates from Wedbush Securities, which forecasted bitcoin’s future value to be nearly $100,000. Venture capitalist Chris Dixon has also offered similar price projections.
Sunstone associate Yacine Ghalim further explained the reason for his company’s interest in bitcoin:
“Aside from being a groundbreaking technological innovation, bitcoin has the potential to become a financial, societal and even a political innovation all at once.”
Crossing the chasm
Of course, achieving these estimates will require VC firms like Quasar and Sunstone to further build the ecosystem and its available services through smart investments.
As Ghalim noted in his slideshow, the majority of investment – nearly $60m – has thus far been awarded to exchanges and wallets. As such, other surrounding services necessary for mainstream adoption – such as payment processing – have still yet to become the focal point of new capital.
Brener’s presentation addressed more directly the implications of this observation, namely the gap between bitcoin’s potential and its ability to appeal to consumers in the general market.
He acknowledged that such complementary services are needed to push the ecosystem from a phase defined by the presence of innovators, to one where complete solutions are available for early adopters who will be able to use the technology to “solve particular problems”.
The next wave of investments
Brener suggests that many of the “first opportunities” for bitcoin investors have already been addressed by companies such as BitPay and Coinbase, but that there is as-yet-untapped potential for bitcoin loan and deposit companies that he says could be “significant in the short term”.
Though, he adds that the solutions being developed by major US firms may not be one-size-fits-all, and that certain markets, like Latin America for example, could evolve to necessitate unique versions of current solution providers.
Ghalim was more certain that the position of these current market leaders is not guaranteed, stating that he doesn’t see any vertical as safe from disruption:
“Because of the important network effects, first-mover advantage could be more relevant than in other verticals. However, this is often overrated, and we don’t think any bitcoin startup has acquired critical mass yet.”
Brener also labeled home seller, merchant services, micropayment and remittance markets as those that will necessitate the presence of reliable parties that serve the market like BitPay and Coinbase, suggesting that action could develop in these markets soon as these players become more established.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Brener suggests that investors aren’t considering bitcoin companies alone, or even those using just the existing technology. Brener cited the Ethereum project as an example of a development that may not yield short-term investor dividends, but that has serious long-term implications.
For now, however, Brener said Quasar is looking for entrepreneurs that can help it become more active in the space. Said Brener:
“We have already performed a deep analysis and identified some big opportunities, so we are now eager to find top-notch entrepreneurs to become partners and build them together.”
Likewise, Ghalim noted that his company is looking for entrepreneurs to back, and that these individuals come before the capability of any technology. He cited Europe as an area where ideas are flourishing and stated that his firm is following developments in the space “closely”.
Of course, while promising, there remains “major concern” among VCs regarding the potential for regulation that could stifle innovation or otherwise restrict the bitcoin space in key markets.
“Many investments could be delayed until regulations come out, which will take at least 12 more months, meaning that the bitcoin area could grow aggressively in 2015 and beyond,” Brener cautioned.
Ghalim suggested that the “systematic risk” posed by mining conglomerates is also a concern.
“While the protocol was originally designed to decentralise trust, this reintroduces a trust issue,” he said.
Still, Brener explains that there will likely be a lag between investment and its impact on bitcoin users. He said that the short-term opportunities it is considering would not roll out for the next two to three years.
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