Mathias Sundin has come a long way since campaigning as the first Swedish politician to exclusively accept bitcoin donations.
After being elected in 2014, Sundin has helped turn the nation’s banks into some of the most progressive in the world when it comes to working with bitcoin startups. And now he’s joined Sweden’s largest bitcoin exchange, BTCX, as chairman of the board.
But Sundin’s involvement with the firm is about more than bringing attention to one of the oldest bitcoin exchanges in Europe.
An entrepreneur in his own right, having co-founded Sweden’s Warp Institute, which aimed to help accelerate technological innovation, Sundin intends to take a hands-on role at the bitcoin exchange.
He told CoinDesk:
"Even if you don’t care about bitcoin at all, it’s a very exciting startup. So, we’re going to raise money now and probably also expand into other markets in a few countries, in Europe first."
BTCX is growing at a rate of about 1,200 customers per month, with transaction volume over the same time at around 2 million euros. At the core of the firm's expansion plans lies what Sundin characterized as a willingness by the company to work with established banks, not just disrupt them.
Appeasing the banks
Sundin first met the BTCX team during his 2014 election campaign, when he raised about two bitcoins in donations from 50 donors around the world.
Already a member of the Swedish Parliament with the Liberal party, Sundin had set about transforming himself into a representative of the bitcoin community after reading a New York Times article by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. Reading the article changed his impression of bitcoin as a way to buy "drugs and mushrooms" to a way of giving more power to normal people.
"I realized this has some real potential to move power from institutions to regular people. That’s the main reason I’m into politics."
A bitcoin-only exchange when it launched in 2012, BTCX has expanded on that business, introducing, with Sundin’s help in 2015, what it termed a Swedish Bitcoin Embassy aimed at educating the public.
Now registered with the Swedish Tax Authority and the Swedish Financial Supervision Authority, the company’s educational efforts have evolved into what more closely resembles blockchain consulting services, offering lectures for 24,990 Swedish krona or about $3,000.
These lectures originated from an invitation from Sundin shortly after he was elected to address members of Swedish banks, which had been hesitant to offer bitcoin companies bank accounts on the basis of what they were concerned might be underdeveloped regulatory compliance.
BTCX "could show the banks and everyone else that they're following every regulation," Sundin said. "And they showed the Swedish IRS and everyone that we’re doing everything by the book here and there’s nothing fishy going on."
The result? BTCX obtained a bank account at Sweden’s largest bank, SEB, and is now helping teach other regional startups how to do the same.
Since then, Sundin said his perception among fellow Parliament members has evolved from being the "weird and funny" bitcoin proponent to someone representing a more mainstream interest.
Reacting to news earlier this year that Sweden’s land registry was exploring putting titles on a blockchain, many other government departments have started looking for potential benefits to their own work, Sundin said.
In addition to helping bitcoin startups obtain recognition by Sweden’s banks, Sundin has turned his attention to working with startups outside bitcoin and blockchain and the venture capitalists who support them. Though, Sundin had no comment on Swedish startup Brave New World Investments using cryptocurrencies to facilitate investment in Iran.
BTCX plans to publicly launch a new payment platform this summer, providing businesses a service license. And, later this year, the company plans on releasing a new exchange into stealth mode.
As recently as last Thursday, Sundin met with BTCX, to begin parlaying his experience with startups and investors into an effort to help the company define its future — not only as an entity to itself, but as a leader in the space, helping other Swedish bitcoin companies gain traction.
Sundin explained his attraction to the exchange, saying:
"I liked what they’re doing in their business. But also the community aspect of it."
Mathias Sundin image via Leif Jansson