A panel of investors and entrepreneurs took the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Tuesday to talk about the popular (and somewhat elusive) virtual currency Bitcoin. The panel, which included venture capitalists Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, AngelList's Naval Ravikant, entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan, talked for a while about the potential of Bitcoin---and about the massive bumps in the road ahead.
First, to see the full potential of Bitcoin, Ravikant said you have to change the way you think of it. "Don't think of Bitcoin just as currency. It's really more like programmable money," he said.
The Hurdles Ahead
Ravikant, who said he invests in Bitcoin by buying it, was frank about one thing: When it comes to investing in Bitcoin, you have to have the stomach for the long haul, as nobody has any idea what "the adoption curve" will be.
"How long will it take for people to adopt it? That tipping point could be two, 20, or 200 years out," he added.
Another issue: regulatory hurdles. While Bitcoin isn't illegal, it isn't really legal either, and regulators are starting to take note--something the Winklevii know well.
In August, the New York Department of Financial Services announced a probe into Bitcoin merchants and issued subpoenas to the Winklevoss brothers, who reportedly own about 1 percent of the currency. The brothers also recently funded a start-up called BitInstant which reportedly facilitates the buying and selling of Bitcoin.
When asked about these issues, Cameron said what seems to be his go-to line: "We welcome healthy regulation."
Visions of a Bitcoin Future
Perhaps one of the more fascinating moments in the discussion was an example given by Srinivasan as to what a mainstream Bitcoin world might look like.
He asked the audience to imagine, for example, a future where Uber and Tesla have partnered to have a fleet of driverless cabs out on the road. If you wanted your car to pass the car in front of you, there could be a Bitcoin fee that you could pay, he explained, and added that this would all be seamless and automated.
Ravikant said he thought the future of Bitcoin's growth would be in some kind of exchange platform and the start-up ecosystem around Bitcoin. To date, there has been a noticeable uptick in Bitcoin entrepreneurs. Most of these new start-ups function as transaction hubs, similar to BitInstant. A new start-up called Lamassu Bitcoin Ventures has raised money to create Bitcoin ATM machines. In New York, there's even a Meetup group for Bitcoin entrepreneurs to share ideas, demos, etc.
"Whatever the future, it has to be easy enough for everyday people to use. It's still too hard right now," Ravikant said.