Exactly three months ago, a well-known bitcoin developer, Mike Hearn, wrote a post on Medium that rocked the community of people who believe in the future of the digital currency and its technology. Bitcoin, he wrote, has failed. “It has failed because the community has failed… Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse.” The post led to screaming headlines about the end of bitcoin.
And yet, the industry plugs along. The currency is trading at $430 USD. Transaction volume (the number of bitcoin transactions per day) is higher now than it was before Hearn’s post, according to a tracker at Blockchain.info. Just this week, the Wall Street Journal profiled a top ETF (exchange-traded fund) attorney who is advocating for a bitcoin ETF, the same effort that Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are pushing.
@barrysilbert Close your eyes and click you heel 3 times..then keep saying to yourself, "Bitcoin is dead, bitcoin is dead, bitcoin is dead"
— Trev Daniel (@TrvDaniel) April 15, 2016
Maybe not. If you ask Taavet Hinrikus, CEO of international-payments app TransferWise, “Bitcoin, I think we can say, is dead. There is no traction, no one is using bitcoin. The bitcoin experiment, I think we can say, is over.”
Hinrikus made the comments in an interview with Yahoo Finance, during a visit to discuss his company’s service launching in Mexico this week. “What really happened was a gold rush,” he continued. “People bought bitcoin because they thought it would be worth more tomorrow. And a lot of people got lucky. But we’re not seeing real people use bitcoin. And we don’t know what problem it solves. Now, blockchain, I think, is a genius advancement in technology. But I’m not sure we’re seeing yet where to apply it. I’m pretty excited about R3 and Digital Asset Holdings. I think there are many areas where using blockchain is great, but it’s still early days.”
He’s not alone in either opinion: JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, for one, has also said that bitcoin is “doomed,” and has also drawn a distinction between the currency and its underlying ledger technology, the blockchain. His bank, along with more than 40 others, has signed on to a consortium to test blockchain technology for their transaction rails.
Of course, TransferWise isn’t a bitcoin company. But the company’s proposition to customers is faster transfer times, and smaller transfer fees, on international remittances. Bitcoin, as a technology, has the same appeal (among many other uses): instant transfers and tiny fees, circumventing big, expensive, sluggish banks or wire services. Startups like TransferWise, and Dwolla, and a host of others that have nothing to do with bitcoin are nonetheless in the same general pool of financial technology, or more specifically, digital payments.
The bold claim about bitcoin’s death would mean more, and be more alarming or divisive among the bitcoin community, coming from a bitcoin executive. (After all, one could make the case that bitcoin is a competitor to TransferWise, which deals in fiat currency.) But Hinrikus is no newcomer to fintech: TransferWise has raised nearly $100 million from huge names in tech investing like Peter Thiel, Marc Andreessen, and Richard Branson, and before co-founding TransferWise, Hinrikus was the first hire at Skype and worked there five years as its director of strategy.
When asked about bitcoin, Hinrikus began by saying, “We’ve certainly paid lots of attention to bitcoin and blockchain.” If tech entrepreneurs like Hinrikus feel they no longer need to keep paying attention, that could be a problem for the coin and its future viability.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.