INSIGHT

Trillions of reasons to believe

The British startup set to dwarf Apple, Microsoft and Google

We’re dedicated to helping you disrupt your markets. Or cope with it when the inevitable happens. And to help with a little insight and inspiration of how it’s done, we’ve created the Virgin Media Business Disruptor 10 list, in conjunction with Fast Track 100 – as published in The Sunday Times.

Here, in the fifth part of our 10-part series, we learn that ambition sometimes has no practical limits.

This is potential, squared

Ever met an early stage company on the cusp of something really, properly huge? Perhaps bigger than Apple in the 1970s. Microsoft in the 1980s. PayPal in the 1990s. Then Google and Amazon in the noughties. What if the potential of those were combined? And then squared?

Not credible? Obviously not. But think about this….

Digital money, it is increasingly believed, has the potential to usurp national currencies.

 
 

Given the amount of trade already denominated in US Dollars and the benefit of a currency not controlled by (or linked to the performance of) a single nation, it is not impossible to imagine a future in which a digital currency represents, let’s say, 80 per cent of transactions across the globe.

And that means a very big number denominated in a single digital currency. According to the World Bank, Gross World Product was a shade shy of $74 trillion in 2015.

Now consider this – all of those transactions are going to have to go ‘through’ a variety of systems. And there needs to be a ‘place’ where all this value is stored. And, perhaps, a tiny percentage of each transaction will accrue to the providers of this infrastructure.

This is the market that Blockchain is developing. It currently facilitates half of all cryptocurrency transactions across the world. And thinks it could capture 80%

But, unlike the tech behemoths of today, Blockchain is UK-based. And, from an office in London, they’re helping redefine the very meaning of currency, creating a system that is open, accessible and efficient.

Which, naturally, isn’t exactly easy.

Insane and virtually impossible

Blockchain cofounder and chief executive, Peter Smith, says: “The reality of doing very disruptive things is that it is really, very hard. The struggle to get there is huge. Our simple purpose is that we want it to be as easy as possible for people to do business with each other, which means making it easier to transfer value.

“But that means changing the world. It’s like doing something insane, something impossible – climbing K2 unsupported and without oxygen.”

Blockchain’s cryptocurrency wallet was launched in 2013 after eight months in development. There are now more than 10m wallets in use, up from 4m in 2015. One of the side-effects is that Blockchain hosts one of the top 2,000 websites in the world, with 400m impressions a month.

More significantly, it is also working towards digitising the value of assets of any type, including land and commodities. In June, the founders were recognised as technology pioneers by the World Economic Forum.

But there’s still a long way to go before the heady heights of its potential are reached.

Ruthless and rentless

Peter says: “I haven’t made any money out of Blockchain. From the beginning there was little cash involved. We bootstrapped and got to 20 people before we raised outside capital. A key strategy was to get the product in the hands of people as soon as possible. If your code doesn’t embarrass you, you’ve waited too long.

“By shipping the product as quickly as possible and spending as little as possible, we received offers from Silicon Valley investors saying they would fund us if we moved to the US west coast. We waited a long time to raise our first financing and eventually got $30m, the largest in Europe for the first outside round. There’s a ruthless competitiveness about Blockchain. We are relentless in how we compete.”

Freaking out phase

With roughly 150,000 transactions a day, Blockchain is the biggest operator in the cryptocurrency sector. But even with such an impressive track record, the enterprise remains outside the mainstream.

Peter says: “Right now we are in the freaking out phase. We know how disruption works, but you’ve got the regulators trying to figure out how to regulate it, governments trying to figure out how to change it, and then companies trying to build the stuff. We constantly ask ‘What next?’ and that next phase is for digital assets to become a normal part of life. I think we are a few years from that.”

Vulnerable to disruption

Blockchain is now one of the fastest growing tech companies in the world. Yet Peter is reluctant to predict the future of cryptocurrency. Why? Because even Bitcoin is vulnerable to disruption.

Peter says: “The future might not be Bitcoin. It might be a different cryptocurrency altogether. However, I am 100 per cent convinced the general idea will be successful in the long term. With Blockchain my definition of success is when I take the business public. So in my eyes we aren’t successful yet.”

By even the most conservative of optimistic calculations, Blockchain could one day be a British company valued at $1.5trillion – rather dwarfing Apple’s $620billion.

And even if it misses its potential by an entire order of magnitude, climbing K2 without oxygen is going to seem rather less accomplished.

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