21 Inc. is a mysterious bitcoin company that has raised more capital than any other business in the digital currency space. It was founded in 2013 by Matthew Pauker and Balaji Srinivasan, who say their main goal is to facilitate mainstream bitcoin adoption. Despite the fact that the general public still does not know exactly what the company plans to do, 21 Inc. has managed to score a whopping $116 million from a number of extremely successful investors.
According to the Wall Street Journal,
“21’s lead investors include U.S. venture-capital heavyweights Andreessen Horowitz and RRE Ventures,…Chinese private-equity firm Yuan Capital,…chipmaker Qualcomm Inc.,…Khosla Ventures,…Data Collective,…PayPal co-founders Peter Thiel and Max Levchin, eBay Inc. co-founder Jeff Skoll, Dropbox Inc. CEO Drew Houston, Expedia Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Zynga Inc. co-founder Mark Pincus.”
That’s an absolutely jaw-dropping list, and if 21 was able to impress all of those big names, there must be some truly exciting projects in the pipeline. Lots of bitcoin lovers have been speculating about what those projects might involve. So far, the best clues have come from a list of job openings on 21’s website.
“Clearly 21 Inc will be engaged in some pretty large-scale bitcoin mining (one job description states there will be day-to-day operation of 10,000+ server installations)…They likely want to become/create ‘trusted nodes’ within the Bitcoin mining network permitting merchants & machines near-instant confidence that their transactions will be 100% confirmed.”
Alistair notes, along with several voices in the bitcoin space, that the current, 10-minute confirmation time for bitcoin transactions is too slow for many applications. If 21 can develop a way to provide near-instant confirmations and charge for such services, the company may be willing to forgo traditional mining profits.
The second enterprise could involve producing bitcoin hardware wallets, “given Qualcomm’s strategic investment in the company.” Qualcomm has designed some of the world’s leading mobile processors and Alistair expects that this partnership with 21 might lead to some competition with Apple in the mobile payments industry. One innovation that might be coming is a way to ensure that bitcoin private keys are “kept disconnected from the Internet even on smartphones or tablets.” It’s also likely that “21 Inc would develop a software wallet to use their own secure hardware element and perhaps broadcast transactions to their trusted nodes first.”
All of this bitcoin investment and progress is exhilarating. Bitcoin has been called one of the most important developments of our time, but it has always been clear that the technology has a long way to go. As much as we love the basic concept, it still needs more adoption and more infrastructure, and 21 seems to be working hard to bring those things about. I can’t wait to see where the company takes us over the next few years.
Daniel Brown is the editor-in-chief of You, Me, and BTC. There, he co-hosts the planet’s most entertaining Bitcoin podcast and writes about various crypto topics. He also works for Liberty.me, preparing content pages, bug testing, and doing anything else that needs to be done.