The transcript from this week’s MIB: Cameron & Tyler Winklevoss is below.
You can stream/download the full conversation, including the podcast extras on iTunes, Bloomberg, Overcast, and Stitcher. Our earlier podcasts can all be found at iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast, and Bloomberg.
Barry’s Note: The transcription could not tell the difference between Cameron or Tyler’s voices (!) and called them UNIDENTIFIED MALE. I replaced that with WINKLEVOSS, but the conversation was fairly evenly split between Cameron and Tyler.
ANNOUNCER: This is MASTERS IN BUSINESS with Barry Ritholtz on Bloomberg Radio.
BARRY RITHOLTZ, HOST, MASTERS IN BUSINESS: This week on the podcast I have an extra special set of guest, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are the twins who have been behind some of the most fascinating developments in technology, crypto currency, venture capital. You might be familiar with them from the way they were depicted in The Social Network. They were the folks who had the original idea behind Harvard Connection, which later became a predecessor company that theoretically Mark Zuckerberg lifted some of the ideas from and used to launch Facebook.
We talk about that, we discuss the variety of different opportunities that exist in crypto currency, in bitcoin, in Gemini, which is the exchange secure vault and exchange they set up, we talk about other venture capital work they — they do. It’s really a fascinating conversation that’s wide-ranging and covers a ton of different stuff. If you are at all remotely interested in anything from V.C.s to startup to crypto, you will find this conversation fascinating. So with no further ado, my conversation with the Winklevii.
My special guests this week are Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, better known as Winklevii. Is that plural? Do you guys like that or is it just a tired joke you’re sick of?
WINKLEVOSS: We’re OK with it.
RITHOLTZ: You’re OK with it?
WINKLEVOSS: It’s fine.
RITHOLTZ: So in case you are wholly unfamiliar with who they are, they most famously worked on the predecessor at Harvard to Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, who they subsequently sued for stealing their intellectual property. That case was settled for tens of millions of dollars. They now run Winklevoss Capital, a V.C. firm, and have been aggressive investors in crypto, blockchain, bitcoin, et cetera. They also founded Gemini, a crypto currency exchange. Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, welcome to Bloomberg.
WINKLEVOSS: Thanks for having us.
WINKLEVOSS: Thank you.
RITHOLTZ: And by the way, you guys have to just feel free to jump in. I don’t know which one of you to look at. You are my first set of twins as interviewees, so it’s a little confusing, but — but quite intriguing and I think we’ll have a little fun with it. So I have to start with the obvious question. You guys must be recognized wherever you go. Is that a headache, is it a hindrance, does it help? How do you deal with your fame from — from the whole Facebook debacle?
WINKLEVOSS: So, you know, we’re not recognized — so we’ve always been recognized in the sense that, like, oh, there’s two of you. So there’s always been this thing, like, wait, are you guys twins, way before any of all this.
RITHOLTZ: Does anyone really ask you if you’re twins? I mean, you guys kind of look like identical twins.
WINKLEVOSS: More than you’d think.
WINKLEVOSS: And a lot of times they ask if we’re identical or like brothers — but yes.
RITHOLTZ: Well brothers — really?
RITHOLTZ: I’m not sure if you guys are related. That’s just shocking that anyone would say that.
WINKLEVOSS: But the — it kind of depends where we are. We can — at least it feels like we can kind of blend in a little bit but it’s definitely harder being —
WINKLEVOSS: — 6’5 — you know, six foot five twins. That’s almost harder to disguise than, like, oh, those are the guys from The Social Network. So it kind of depends where we are. If we’re at, like, a business school event or something —
WINKLEVOSS: — you know, where people sort of read trade magazines or a crypto currency event. But if we’re just kind of walking down the street, it doesn’t feel like a lot of people necessarily recognize us, but maybe we just don’t see it.
RITHOLTZ: And — and Manhattan is pretty chill about that for the most part, isn’t it?
WINKLEVOSS: For the most part. I mean, we’ve definitely been asked to take selfies just because we’re twins.
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, the person had, like, no idea who we were and probably figured it out after the fact or whatever. So the twin thing gets a lot of eyes for sure, especially because we’re — you know — you know, we’re older twins. Usually, you know, twins sort of separate, live in different cities. We kind of work together, we’re — we have similar routines so we might be walking together down the street and people sort of turn around and say oh, those are two guys that are tall that look identical.
WINKLEVOSS: I think people appreciate the fact that we still get along and we’re, like, in our later 30s. I think they — they expect to sort of see twins — you know, 10 year old twins like hanging out together —
RITHOLTZ: Dressed alike with lollipops and —
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, we never did that.
RITHOLTZ: All right, so let’s move forward from — I’m sure you’re tired of that question. You must get it all the time. So undergraduate of Harvard Business School at Oxford. Was the plan always to go into finance to be entrepreneurs? What was — what was the thinking when you were mapping out your academic and professional careers?
WINKLEVOSS: I think the idea was — I think we thought we’d always be entrepreneurs because our dad is an entrepreneur and he has a technology company and has been building software for 30 years. He was a professor actuarial science back at Wharton and then went off and became an entrepreneur. So we — we grew up in a startup tech office environment and we always wanted to sort of be like that. And then we discovered the sport of rowing and one thing led to the — to the next and said oh, maybe I can be good at this in high school. And then got pretty good, made junior national team and said hmm, maybe we can row in college and see what happens.
RITHOLTZ: Is that how you ended up on the Charles River? Was it from high school rowing?
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, I mean that — Harvard was — Harry Parker was this legendary coach. He coached for over 50 seasons —
WINKLEVOSS: — and by the time we were applying to college — he was a guy that you would aspire, as a — as a high school rower — to row for. And then we got to college and said hey, maybe we can make the varsity, and then we did that, we’re undefeated national champions in 2003, 2004 and then we said hey, maybe we should try our luck at the national team and try the Olympic level. So it was one of these things that just — it — I kind of call our sports career a bit of a detour because we didn’t grow up in this jock household.
My parents played sports but, it — you know, the house didn’t revolve around that, it actually really revolved around entrepreneurship and business ideas. So rowing sort of started off as this thing that became a 15 year detour but I think we always knew we’d get back into startups.
RITHOLTZ: So — so let’s talk about startups. You guys run Winklevoss Capital. What sort of companies do you invest in? What are you looking for in a startup?
CAMERON WINKLEVOSS: So we invest in early stage startups with a technology focus generally, but we’re somewhat agnostic. We’ve definitely invested in consumer brands and things that we like. It’s a private investment firm so we kind of make the decisions and call the shots. We don’t have outside money yet. We could potentially raise at some later point but currently it’s private.
TYLER WINKLEVOSS: Yes. I think there’s just a big focus on software technology. Although as Cameron said, we’ve definitely done CPG type stuff. So it is really up to us. That — that is the — the fun about it. And that has actually been one of the greatest advantages, is the agility and the nimbleness. Because when we saw bitcoin originally we could invest in it because we called the shots versus a lot of V.C.s, they can only invest in C-corps. So they had structural problems with their, you know, private offering documents where even if they wanted to invest in bitcoin they couldn’t, they had to invest in companies.
And the partners, a lot of them saw the opportunity and personally invested in bitcoin but couldn’t invest their fund in it.
RITHOLTZ: Interesting. So stick with portfolio companies, you had a firm you invested in, love begins with L was just acquired by Procter & Gamble. Our Crunchbase says you’ve already had 13 exits. Is that more or less accurate?
WINKLEVOSS: Lucky number 13.
RITHOLTZ: So — 13 though, but where’s the denominator in Crunchbase? 13 out of how many companies have you guys actually been that successful with already?
WINKLEVOSS: I think we’ve invested in over 70 at this point —
RITHOLTZ: So that’s a good percentage to have, about 15, 20 percent with an exit already.
WINKLEVOSS: I think at this life cycle, it’s still pretty early. Like we started investing about five years ago and I think most venture capital funds have about a 10 year life span, so you could argue we’re about halfway through. And there’s a number of great stories that are playing out as we speak, and then there’s — there’s some that you thought were going to play out a little bit longer and get snatched up pretty quickly. I think one — a good example is this company Chariot, which is building basically ridesharing and it was taking more of a group model.
And so they got these big vans from Ford and had these roots in an app. And their — you know, their equipment supplier was Ford and Ford eventually was like oh, let’s — you know, we should just acquire these guys because we’re not going to go build and, you know, experiment this way. So that exit I think happened maybe a year after our money was wired. And it was a great return. We probably — you know I thought it might have played out over a couple more cities another year or two.
But it was — it was a great outcome for us and we’re seeing a lot of that we’re — you know we — we invest in brands, they — they start getting traction and then a large consumer company comes and just basically acquires it because they’ve got all the distribution but they don’t have that innovative thing going on.
RITHOLTZ: So I want to come back to bitcoin in a little bit because there’s a ton of stuff to go over with you. But I have to ask you something about the Winklevoss Capital website.
You have on that homepage a fascinating painting that I’ve been entranced with by Jack Crossing on 6th Avenue. What motivated you to put that on — on your homepage? Are you on 6th Avenue or what — what was it about? And if you’ve never seen the — the picture — the painting, it’s an astronaut in full — full spacesuit on fire crossing 6th avenue.
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, I think — I think we really liked the image because A, we’re New York based, so it really spoke to us in that fashion. B, it’s an astronaut and a lot of these companies, including bitcoin and Crypto is pushing that frontier, right. Going into space.
RITHOLTZ: Moon shots.
WINKLEVOSS: Moon shots, exactly. And then the flames you know represent, I think, the risk inherent with — with these entrepreneurs and what they’re trying to do. And people often — they dare to think big but you also have to dare to know that like you could fail in a big way.
It just may not work. You might put years of your life on the line for no guarantee, no return. And that’s just important, you know, being able to take the risk and being comfortable with it. And if you fall, getting right back up and going at it again.
RITHOLTZ: What’s the Jeff Beso’s quote? If you’re not failing you’re not taking enough risk or something to that effect?
WINKLEVOSS: That sounds right. You know we had a rowing coach in high school that said if you meet all of your goals you’re not setting them high enough. So there’s probably a lot of ways to skin that saying.
But I think Cameron makes a really good point. Being comfortable with the concept of huge failure it is really the essence, I think of entrepreneur ship and risk taking and I think that — that astronaut picture really embodies that and — and sort of the essence of what it means to be an entrepreneur and — and — and yes, it’s not for everyone.
And it’s certainly not an everyday thing. And those are the type of individuals and teams we’re looking to back. And it’s a very specific person and I think that — that sort of captures the — the kind of astronauts we’re looking for.
RITHOLTZ: Harvard Connection, was that a fun idea? Was that really going to be a business? What was the thinking when you guys first T’d (ph) that up?
WINKLEVOSS: So there’s definitely fun thinking about this but we always thought this could be a great business as well. It’s actually Harvard Connection that was rebranded to connect to you but the idea was to help students connect more easily on campuses.
We went to Harvard for undergraduate but in — in Boston alone there’s at least 50 schools. There’s so many different students but by junior year legal we hadn’t really met many people from outside of your walk of life.
You — you know your own sports team, you do — you have your major and you don’t really like connect outside of your bubbles. Like life’s too busy and geography constraints, whatever.
So we sort of said like let’s let our fingers do the walking. And let’s put real life social networks online and let’s use email addresses to filter people into networks within networks.
So if you go to Harvard, you have a Harvard.edu email address. You can’t get that unless you’re actually a student. The Registar gives you one and they don’t issue you more than one. So you can’t just give one — and extra one to a friend.
So — and the same thing if you go and you work at company — let’s say you go to work at Goldman Sachs, you get a Goldman Sachs, you know, email address. I can’t get one because I don’t work there.
And so all the sudden you can start building some order online. You know the predecessors to connect (inaudible) were MySpace Friendster but they were just one network, a whole morass of people.
You couldn’t really find people based on their schools or where they were and that was really the breakthrough that we — that we had that later was, you know, pushed into — into Facebook.
RITHOLTZ: So here’s the obligatory social network question, what you’d guys think of the movie? Did they every consult with you? Were you sort of surprised by how you were depicted? What — what was your experience with that like?
WINKLEVOSS: So we — we liked the movie. I think we’re the only people depicted in it that actually went to the premier. So you know I think they (inaudible), right. Yes.
I think they did a great job of — of telling a story and three different sides to the story but not drawing a specific conclusion. So the conversation really starts as you leave the theater and based on how they told the story, you can sort of take any — any of the sides of the different characters.
But I think, you know, there was a ton of information in the public domain, believe it or not at that point. So they could do a ton of research without even actually talking to the subjects. I think it probably should have won best picture. It got …
RITHOLTZ: I don’t remember what won that year.
WINKLEVOSS: Exactly, there you go.
RITHOLTZ: Well that’s — that was made for the Oscars, “The King’s Speech.”
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, it was sort of packaged and — and you felt that perfect campaign. I think they got the queen of England to sort of endorse it. They just ran an incredible campaign.
WINKLEVOSS: And it’s a movie you can — you can watch with your grandparents and younger kids. Its feel good. You’re kind of rooting for the king even though he’s a king. And you know “The Social Network,” I think a lot of people get to the end of that movie and you sort of feel like wow, OK.
This is — this is not a happy world. It’s not. You know there’s (inaudible) necessarily that feeling to it.
RITHOLTZ: So was the original business model of Harvard Connection let’s spread fake news and effect a presidential campaign or did that come later?
WINKLEVOSS: That’s funny. I mean so when we were thinking about this idea, we were saying like if this works on the Harvard campus, there’s no reason it doesn’t work on every campus, you know, or every like micro network in the world at that time.
RITHOLTZ: Sure. As long as you have a single identifying email address that can’t be faked.
WINKLEVOSS: Right. I mean so at that point people were still almost not being themselves online and using avatars and then this was really the first time where people were saying hey, I want to be identified as Cameron Winklevoss. I want people to be able to find me. I think today now …
WINKLEVOSS: Right because if you go back to like the AOL — like AOL, the chat rooms, no one was themselves — like …
RITHOLTZ: Shopgirl42. Right. It was nobody’s real name.
WINKLEVOSS: It wasn’t. Yes. And then all of the sudden there was this flip, sort of cracked the identity problem on the internet and then everyone’s like wait, I’m going to be my real self online.
And that was really interesting to see that sort of movement. So net-net (ph), was “The Social Network” good for you? Did it — was it — did you come away from it with a positive experience or did you think of this as well they kind of told a story and played it a little fast and loose with the truth. And — and made some people out to be good guys and bad guys?
WINKLEVOSS: So I think that we’ve made it good for us. I think ultimately you have to like take these things and try and make them positive for you. It’s a — at the end of the day it’s a piece of art and entertainment first and foremost as opposed to a documentary that’s hard hitting investigative reporting.
And you know we certainly understood that difference but a lot of people don’t. They’re like, that’s like exactly how things went as opposed to that’s sort of a composite story telling. But yes, I mean I think overall it was super exciting to sort of watch it unfold and happen.
It was flattering that people cared about our story to some extent. And like Cameron says, it’s a lot. Like it could have been a really bad movie, a really bad portrayal. It happened to be like a great movie, one we can show our grandkids kind of thing.
So you can’t take yourself or it too seriously. The funny thing is though, is like a lot of other people like take it more seriously than at least we do.
RITHOLTZ: Well, it sounds like you guys have a healthy attitude about it.
WINKLEVOSS: We try. But people come up on the street and they’ll be like I’m so pissed off or like — you know they’re like really exercised about the movie or what happened or this or that. It’s like dude, calm down. Like it’s OK. It’s just a movie. We’ll — we’ll be OK.
RITHOLTZ: So let’s talk about real life a second. So you’re working on Harvard Connection. You hired Zuckerberg to do some coding for you. At what point did you start to get an inkling hey, this guy is not really being all that transparent with us?
WINKLEVOSS: We got our first inkling when we read the Harvard Crimson at the dining room table and we’re started — it — it was like surreal like you’re reading, you know, this — this alternative reality and we’re like well wait a second, maybe there’s like another guy on campus with the same name who’s thinking about, you know, the same thing.
And it was just a very surreal moment and that — that’s when we sort of realized what — what had happened.
WINKLEVOSS: Right. So the Harvard Crimson is a student newspaper. But then when we — obviously we’re shocked, we’re like, what? Mark Zuckerberg launched the Facebook. We’re like reading our own obituary in a way. It’s like super surreal.
Then sort of looking back as we sort of uncovered or thought like there was 52 emails that changed and it was clear as we learned later on that he would say he was doing stuff and then tell his friend like I’m sandbagging them effectively.
WINKLEVOSS: So yes. It was like this – it wasn’t like all of a sudden he went his own way and said, “see you guys. Like good luck.” It was sort of this methodical, premeditated sandbagging which was really the basis of the lawsuit which was fraud.
RITHOLTZ: So you proceeded on two levels. One was the lawsuit, but there was also a Harvard code of ethics that the claim was, hey, you have an obligation as a student here to maintain the highest levels of ethical standards. How did that play out in real life? It was depicted in a certain way –
WINKLEVOSS: It didn’t.
RITHOLTZ: It didn’t because in the movie it’s a whole discussion with the president of the university and that turns out to be kind of artistic license?
WINKLEVOSS: Larry Summers wasn’t that interested in the ethics handbook. So that – the part is accurate where we go to student office hours and sit in line like everyone else and say, “look, you know, the handbook says this. A student, you know, interacted with us in a way that’s in violation of that.” And yes, the truth of the fact is that the university and President Summers just didn’t care. So that was disappointing. I think as young students, you know, wide-eyed, bushy tail-like entrepreneurs, I think we thought – we naively thought that the student handbook had some teeth or it would sort of protect us.
We certainly approached him as a fellow student, not some random stranger. And so, that was an eye opener and I don’t want to say a loss of innocence, but oh gosh, like, you know, it just felt like we had a different idea or perception of what actually the reality was.
RITHOLTZ: You had expectations of better behavior from a fellow Harvard student. Is that a fair to sum it up?
WINKLEVOSS: I think so.
RITHOLTZ: When did you guys first get involved in bitcoin?
WINKLEVOSS: So we first got involved in the summer of 2012, and we first learned about it on vacation in Ibiza.
RITHOTLZ: So 2012, I got to think bitcoin is like $10 then. Is that about right?
WINKLEVOSS: Under –
WINKLEVOSS: I think it was just under $10. It was high single digits, which at that point if you talked to bitcoiners was like, oh, it’s getting really expensive.
RITHOLTZ: Right. It’s $8. What are we going to do?
WINKLEVOSS: Yes. It used to be like pennies.
WINKLEVOSS: So we’re on vacation and a guy who we didn’t know but had mutual friends in common came up, introduced himself, said like basically what have you guys thought – have you guys thought about bitcoin digital currency? And we hadn’t and we had just started Winklevoss Capital a few months earlier. We just didn’t – retired from rowing. We had rowed for 15 years. We competed in the 2008 Olympics and decided to hang up our oars. And so, we were just starting to get into entrepreneurship, again, basically via angel investing.
And so, we were totally all ears for new ideas, and we stayed in touch and then met some bitcoin entrepreneurs in New York as soon as we got back to the states, and the rest is sort of history.
RITHOLTZ: Did you start by buying bitcoin or start by putting money into other crypto-related startups?
WINKLEVOSS: So that was kind of a debate we had internally. What’s a better investment? The coin or the company built on top of it? We ended up actually doing both, but it think in a lot of these cases for cryptocurrencies, the ultimate bitcoin bet is bitcoin because bitcoin’s got to work first before a company that is built on top of it works.
So we sort of like came to the sequencing that buying the currency is sort of like buying a piece of the entire Internet or the ecosystem.
WINKLEVOSS: And so, imagine if you could go back in time and buy a piece of the Internet. Like, you don’t have to bet on Amazon versus pets.com. If you own the Internet as long you would be apart of Amazon’s growth.
RITHOLTZ: I remember when network solutions, which was the registrar for domains that was officially approved, I remember when that stock went crazy and it was the exact same argument. Hey, you don’t have pick a winner. Pick the one company that get’s to get a little piece of every company online.
WINKLEVOSS: Right. Just sort of bet on the race track, not trying to pick the horses. And as long as there’s horses racing, you’ll be apart of the pot.
RITHOLTZ: Sp bitcoin goes pretty vertical starting in 2013, 2015 with a couple of big pullbacks, but ultimately towards the end of 2017 I want to say it was about 19,000. is that about right?
WINKLEVOSS: That’s about right, and I think the first sort of big inflection point we saw was in – I think it was March of 2013 when there was the Cyprus financial crisis and the government did a bail in. So basically they trimmed – anybody with deposits above €100,000, they just took it.
WINKLEVOSS: And – right? People started – you know, bitcoin sort of hit a mainstream consciousness at that point, and people realized, wow, this is like a global asset that is fascinating. It’s literally a digital gold.
RITHOLTZ: I’ve been calling it libertarian gold because the philosophy of the government should be able to do what they did in Cyprus –
WINKLEVOSS: Right, totally.
RITHOLTZ: – is so appealing to that crew (ph).
WINKLEVOSS: Right, and one of the things, though, we also realized as it sort of entered mainstream consciousness was that the Cypriots, the ship had sailed for them, right? They weren’t going to get into bitcoin. It had already happened. But there was a lot of people who saw that who then said, “hey, how do I get into bitcoin?”
And the only option at that time was a site called Mt. Gox, which is M-T-G-O-X. It stands for Magic the Gathering Online Exchange. So prior to being a bitcoin exchange, it was a Magic the Gathering Online Exchange for literally Magic cards and they did one of the greatest pivots of all time into bitcoin.
And so, we actually acquired a lot of our bitcoin on Mt. Gox. Thankfully we weren’t caught up when it imploded.
RITHOLTZ: Blew up, yes.
WINKLEVOSS: We already left the exchange, but through that sort of experience and all the risk, we built our own cold storage system. We basically took private keys, sharded them, cut them in – basically into pieces and then distributed it across the country in banks. And some banks like they kind of figured what we were up to. They knew we were involved with bitcoin. So they’re like, “no, you can’t open up –
WINKLEVOSS: – a deposit box.”
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, it’s pretty interesting.
WINKLEVOSS: We got turned away by a number of banks.
RITHOLTZ: I would think anyone could walk into any bank and say, “hi, I want to open a safety deposit box.”
WINKLEVOSS: You would think, and I think that’s kind of how it works, right? Because when you open one up, then the bank person leaves and gives you that privacy. They’re not really supposed to ask you –
RITHOLTZ: What’s in here.
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, but apparently –
RITHOLTZ: As long as it’s not, you know, contraband, why would –
WINKLEVOSS: You’re not supposed to put dollars in.
RITHOLTZ: Right, no cash.
WINKLEVOSS: And I think you could potentially argue that we were putting value, but, you know, a shard of a private key in it of itself is not value. It’s the quorum of those keys. So it was a really interesting kind of experience, and we lived on planes for, you know, the better part of the week. And we’re like, “we’re really motivated to do this. Great, but how do we really get people into this system? And how do we create and onramp?” And that kind of led us into the gap which is that in order for this to really work, we’ve got to have regulated infrastructure that’s licensed compliant, built with like a security first mentality, and that was the genesis of Gemini, our online platform that we started building in 2014, we launched in 2015, and we’ve been running and building since then.
And the simple value prop is really buy, sell, and store initially bitcoin, now ethereum, Zcash, Bitcoin Cash, Lightcash, and we’ll be adding more. And then once we built that trusted platform, you know, we launched a mobile app so you can download the Gemini mobile app in the Google play or the Apple IOS store and literally travel with your crypto at your fingertips and you can trade and do whatever you need to do effectively mobile. So that was – that’s what we’ve been working on for the better part of the past four, five years.
RITHOLTZ: Let’s talk about Winkdex because I haven’t really gotten to that. This is effectively your custom index of various cryptocurrencies. Is that a fair way to describe it?
WINKLEVOSS: So it is a blended price index of bitcoin prices. So it’s just one of the products we’ve been building over the past couple of year.
RITHOLTZ: When you say blended, is it multiple cryptos or is it just one currency?
WINKLEVOSS: Well, there’s one for, if I remember correctly bitcoin and ether. So the risk profiles of exchanges vary a lot because every crypto exchange is also custodian. So when you trade somewhere, you’ve got to commit your capital there.
And some exchanges are like Mt. Gox and some exchanges are like Gemini. They’ve never had an incident. So prices can differ in the industry quite a bit from different exchanges because of the risk profile of how they custody, whether or not you can get Fiat (ph) dollars in or out.
So the idea of the wing text (ph) was to try and create a price because there was a lot of desperate prices and understand what that sort of blend is.
RITHOLTZ: Similar to stocks, will you have things trading on the New York than as to actually go through all the list of different exchanges, very often you’ll have a different price across this. You want to come up with here’s the actual price of bitcoin at this moment?
WINKLEVOSS: That’s — that’s correct, yes.
RITHOLTZ: So the – the question that — that I find intriguing form an institutional perspective is I’ve heard and read various parties say it’s challenging to get liquid in bitcoin for size, meaning hundreds of thousands of dollars. Has that changed? Is it going to change in the future?
Is someone wants to move a million dollars in and out of bitcoin, can you do that quickly or are we not quite there yet?
WINKLEVOSS: So the — when we first got into bitcoin $25,000 was hard to move into the market and actually acquire it at a market capital.
RITHOLTZ: Would you move the price if you were buying $25,000?
WINKLEVOSS: If you did it in a way, you know you could definitely impact the market. It was $100 million market cap world that — that when we first got in I think what people — one of the common misconceptions about bitcoin today is the liquidity.
There’s a lot more than people think is there. You could move a million dollars in and out relatively easy and very — very — like very quickly. And a lot of times because these exchanges are full reserve, the depth of the order book look shallower than it actually is.
But Gemini, for instance, we have the world’s biggest liquidity providers outside of crypto. So if you can think of a name of a market maker on New York Stock Exchange, there’s a really good chance they’re on Gemini.
So we have the same amount of liquidity in a sense that the same players are there, they just don’t show as much because it’s full reserve. But it’s …
RITHOLTZ: Meaning it’s dollar for dollar back up of whatever …
WINKLEVOSS: The prime brokers haven’t — haven’t totally moved into the space yet. So — but they’re all sitting there and if they see orders come onto the order book they’re going to move funds and — and try and add liquidity and — and take the other side of that trade assuming it makes sense for them.
RITHOLTZ: What — what do you make of Fidelity Investments being so aggressive, so early moving into the crypto space? The rest of Wall Street had kind of a let’s wait and see what’s going to happen.
Fidelity, maybe — I wonder if they missed the ETF boom or something but they appear to have said hey, this is the next big thing. We want in early.
WINKLEVOSS: I think it makes a lot of sense and it’s a smart move. They’re — you know they see the opportunity today. It may not make — you know the business case may not be there today but it will be there tomorrow and as these businesses work, you know getting there first is an advantage for sure.
I think a lot of Wall Street got really close in 2017 and were about to take the plunge. Maybe they set up a trading desk with one individual thinking they would scale that out. I think Goldman Sachs, you know, built — started to build the training desk and then it seems to be a little bit on pause.
And you know people have backed away. But there are going to be first movers and there’s going to be a lot of value that accrues to them, I think, because of that.
RITHOLTZ: So — so I love the ad campaign that you guys have put together for Gemini because it’s so counter to the sort of Wild West early days of crypto. So just a full — when I was doing my homework I — I saw a couple of things.
The revolution needs rules was one. Crypto without chaos, which certainly makes sense for people who seem to have lost cash when something implodes or a company loses their key. It just seems insane that that happens.
Money has a future. You guys are trying to take this exchange and make it like a regular mainstream currency exchange or am I over selling that?
WINKLEVOSS: I think that’s — that’s right. I mean we — we entered the space when it was a wild west. We know what the revolution looks like without rules. It usually ends up with catastrophic failures; people really getting injured, a lot of value being lost.
And you know you would never put your money in an unregulated bank. It would never cross your mind and yet in crypto like that’s — that’s the sad reality of the market to some extent. Yes, I mean like we were there five years ago, like I don’t miss that.
I’m not nostalgic for the early days of — of bitcoin or crypto. It wasn’t as interesting as it is today. The best entrepreneurs weren’t in the game. And I think that the — you know the regulation has brought in certainty, it’s brought in more money; therefore investment, therefore better entrepreneurs.
It’s sort of been this incredible great cycle. So we lived that wild west first hand and it was scary and a lot of people got burned and we created Gemini in the wake of all of that as a solution that problem so people could engage with crypto in a way that was — felt as you know safe and compliant as you know opening a bank account at JP Morgan or whatever.
And so we — we know what that’s like and you know — so I think we’re pretty informed on, you know, the short comings of it.
WINKLEVOSS: And I think the money as a (ph) future really plays on this idea that most of the payment mechanisms that we grew up with are decades old. The Fed wire system is ancient.
Credit cards, I think, came from the 50s and 60s and I remember the first days of eBay when I ordered some stuff I did a money order through — through the post office. So you go to the post office, you give them 100 bucks.
They give you like a slip that’s basically a credit. You put it an envelope, you mail it off, you get your good. And then PayPal came out and you’re like wow that’s amazing. It just made my life so much easier but then you realize that it’s still sending value through the existing system and protocols.
It’s really not a global payment system and then you discover bitcoin and you’re like oh my god, this is truly amazing. You can send any amount of money for very cheap anywhere in the world pretty much instantaneously.
And — and so that fast-forward to the past year, we built the Gemini dollar which is a stable coin pegged to the dollar on the Ethereum network. And now with the Gemini mobile app I can send literally proxies for U.S. dollars to anybody in the world instantaneously. We’ve literally brought dollars onto the blockchain. And that’s like the future of money.
WINKLEVOSS: You know it’s kind of like …
RITHOLTZ: It’s so counterintuitive, isn’t it?
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, I mean it’s …
WINKLEVOSS: It’s sort of like what Skype did for — for voice. I remember when I was a kid, long distance calls were a thing.
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, like my mom would be like shh, you’re aunt’s calling from California and we lived in Connecticut at the time. It was like expensive is a big thing. And that’s what moving money has been for — for a long time. Since the beginning of time, right.
WINKLEVOSS: You call up your banker; you have to put in these wire instructions. It’s like these ancient protocols.
WINKLEVOSS: I mean if you send a wire on Friday it — and there’s a bank holiday on Monday, you know from New York to London. It’s probably getting there on Tuesday.
WINKLEVOSS: If you put the numbers in incorrectly, it’s going to be sitting in limbo for a long time and …
WINKLEVOSS: Right. So the joke in crypto is you’re better off getting — going to a plane on JFK and flying from New York to London with a bag of cash because it would get there quicker.
So crypto — the idea is crypto is basically making money — sending money and value as easy as sending email. So that’s kind of the — that was our ah-ha moment five years ago and it still is today.
RITHOLTZ: So you describe it as amazing. A lot of other people in 2017 shared then enthusiasm, did you feel in 2017 like bitcoin had blown up into a full on bubble? Like how were you looking — having been there so much earlier, how are you looking at 2017 going we owned this at $8, this thing is now a thousand; 5,000; 10,000. At what point did you say this is starting to get out of hand.
WINKLEVOSS: Well, I think we — we — so 2017 we felt like, OK, we’ve seen this movie — movie before. Because it was like, I don’t know, the 20th bitcoin bubble where people said it’s out of — its way ahead of itself. It’s going to explode and be worth nothing.
But each time the excitement gets ahead of itself, it tends to stabilize at a better floor than it — than it was before. So if you look at the — instead of looking at the 52 week highs, look at the 52 week lows and each of them are stepping up into the right direction. Now, the way we get there is kind of a wild in between. But we’ve sort of lived through this before and now people call it (ph) a crypto winter and this is like the third or fourth winter we’ve been in.
WINKLEVOSS: So we’ve sort of seen this before. It’s pretty typical of early stage technology. People get overexcited, it re-corrects, then entrepreneurs come and continue to build great stuff, and then it’ll go again. So we fully think that there will be another wave and it should be probably more exciting than the last one.
RITHOLTZ: So on paper in 2017 your bitcoin investments scale up to over $1 billion. Is that fair number? That’s what I read. I don’t know how much hyperbole is in that. What is it like when you’re saying, I know this is a little crazy but there it is on paper, it’s $1 billion. Or do you just say, we know this is going to come back down to earth and let’s just ignore it and keep working?
WINKLEVOSS: I think the latter.
WINKLEVOSS: So — yes.
WINKLEVOSS: I mean, we definitely ignored it and keep working. If you look at the price a year ago, it was close to $20,000. If you look at the price today, it’s a fifth of that. And yet over the last year if we think of, like, what we’ve achieved as a business at Gemini in terms of building our company, we’ve launched mobile apps. We’ve launched a stablecoin, we’ve added three new assets to the platform, we’re about 200 employees strong. We’re shipping —
RITHOLTZ: 200 employees, really? So this is a not insubstantial company and you’re really thinking about this as a longer term play, not, hey, look how much we’re worth, hit the bid (ph) and let’s go on vacation.
WINKLEVOSS: Absolutely. I mean, we — we — we’re — we — we say internally that we’re building a Centurion, a 100-year-plus company. In the Valley people often talk about the unicorn and that’s the company valued at $1 billion. And our view is that, like, look, let’s try and build a sustainable business. If you look at the — the people in the financial world that we respect, like the State Streets of the world, the Bank of New York, these are 200-year-old-plus institutions.
WINKLEVOSS: So that’s what we’re trying to build, is longevity, and we think the valuation part will really take care of itself. And so the last year for Gemini has really been remarkable. We’ve never sort of built so much, built so fast and done so many things. And when you look at the price at a fifth of where it was, it just — it kind of is a reminder of how it’s just one metric and it often lags. It can be obviously too far ahead and too far behind. And one of the anecdotal things, I will say, is that as the price was rushing up to 20,000, I was getting tons of texts and questions from people like, should I buy, should I buy, and I’m like I don’t know.
I mean, it feels like, you know, there’s a — there’s a lot of froth here. but now I’m getting the questions again because people are seeing it at 4,000 and sitting there and it’s been there for — I think we’re going into like 13 — month 13 of the bear market, people are starting to say, hm, it’s starting to look like —
RITHOLTZ: That’s the floor.
WINKLEVOSS: — pretty interesting. Yes. Like, should I be getting in.
WINKLEVOSS: Starting to look cheap, right?
WINKLEVOSS: But if you zoom our enough, our view, at least with bitcoin, is that it is a digital gold. And so that thesis is still —
WINKLEVOSS: Right, the — the qualities that made gold valuable, if you break them down — scarcity, for instance. Bitcoin’s actually fixed. Divisibility, portability, bitcoin’s like sending e-mail, fungibility. So all of the characteristics that make gold valuable. Bitcoin has those characteristics that either equals them — equals gold or betters — betters gold, so we call it gold 2.0. And bitcoin’s market cap — I haven’t checked today, but let’s say it’s $100 million, then gold’s at $7 trillion. If it’s a better gold, it’s got to get that high as a market cap. So we think, you know, bitcoin is better at being gold than gold, so therefore it — it has a lot of room to appreciate.
RITHOLTZ: Blockchain originally was touted as unhackable and now we’re starting to see some articles about small hacks not into the wallets but into blockchain itself. Is that a genuine issue or are these just really little fringe situations that don’t undercut the — the main premise of blockchain?
WINKLEVOSS: So a lot of the early hacks were actually company hacks or entrepreneur failures, they weren’t failures of the bitcoin protocol, which has never been hacked. So there are smaller coins that have had issues because they don’t have a large mining community around them. So, you know, I think that this stuff is overblown. It makes good headlines, but I don’t think it tells at all the full picture, just like price is not the full picture. So I think you need to, like, dig deep and do your homework on this stuff, but this space is here to stay. Crypto currency’s not going away. It’s going to power and re-architect the future internet.
People talk about web 1.0, 2.0, we’re on the beginning of web 3.0. So it’s something you should totally learn more about and take seriously.
RITHOLTZ: Can you guys stick around? I have a bunch more questions.
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, sure.
RITHOLTZ: We have been speaking to Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, founders of Gemini, a crypto exchange, as well as Harvard Connection and Winklevoss Capital. If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure and come back for the podcast extras, where we keep the tape rolling and continue discussing all things crypto. We love your comments, feedback and suggestions. Write to us at MIBPodcast@Bloomberg.net. Check out my daily column on Bloomberg.com/opinion, follow me on Twitter @Ritholtz. I’m Barry Ritholtz. You’re listening to MASTERS IN BUSINESS on Bloomberg Radio.
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Welcome to the podcast. Guys, thank you so much for doing this. I had been really looking forward to chatting with you and you have not disappointed. There are so many questions I did not get to and they’ll have to wait for another time because I have to ask you my favorite questions that we ask all of our guests. These are always interesting and revealing of people’s history and background and personality. So let me jump right into this. Tell us what is the make, year and model of the first car you guys owned.
WINKLEVOSS: I think we shared a — an SUV, a Land Rover. 1999?
WINKLEVOSS: I think that’s right.
RITHOLTZ: First car. And you guys were living in —
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, we split it — we split it down the middle.
RITHOLTZ: You guys were living in — in Greenwich, is that right?
WINKLEVOSS: That’s correct.
RITHOLTZ: So you had a really interesting upbringing, and I wanted to — to ask you about that. But we’ll — if we have time, we’ll circle back. So tell us the most important thing people don’t know about the Winklevoss twins.
WINKLEVOSS: So Tyler’s right-handed, Cameron’s left-handed.
RITHOLTZ: Is — really? Is that true?
WINKLEVOSS: Yes. It is.
RITHOLTZ: That’s — is that common amongst twins or is that relatively rare?
WINKLEVOSS: So I think that it’s in 25 percent of identical twins are mirror image. And I think it’s when the egg splits later.
RITHOLTZ: Right. That’s quite fascinating.
RITHOLTZ: I had no — no idea about that.
RITHOLTZ: Who are some of your early mentors? You mentioned your dad.
RITHOLTZ: Who — who affected your career and your entrepreneurial desires?
WINKLEVOSS: I think for sure parents. I would say early coaches were important. High school rowing coach, James Mangan, this Irishman who really helped us, explained the sport to us and helped us fall in love with it and sort of believe in ourselves that we could achieve these things as kids in high school. So I’d say those are — those were big ones early on that really helped, you know, affect the trajectory of — of our later years.
RITHOLTZ: What about you guys as venture capitalists and investors? Who has influenced the way you think about that work and the way you put money at risk?
WINKLEVOSS: I think — well, our father is an entrepreneur, so I think we, through osmosis, sort of being in that — that household. He worked with computers back in the ‘60s, prior to even monitors, when it was like punch card and he was using a Univac that the computer — I don’t think it would even fit in this floor of the studio. It was probably three times the size of the studio.
So we’d always been around sort of technology and ideas and taking risk, and then I think, you know, believe it or not the sport of rowing I feel like is — informs so much of how we think building teams, day in day out just consistency. It was a 15 year journey for us. When we stepped in the boat house, I don’t think we thought we would be on Olympians but 15 years later we were.
And it was just a lot of work for day in day out. And I think that’s most of entrepreneurship. It’s easy to look at the big numbers and the IPOs. But if you look at most of these companies, they had been at it for well over a decade and just plugging away.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Tell us about some of your favorite books, be they investing or general interests, fiction, nonfiction. What do you guys like to read?
WINKLEVOSS: So, I think “Zero to One” is a great quick read. It’s Peter Thiel’s book on investing. There’s a lot of counter intuitive ideas and examples in there. I think it’s something like 80 pages. It’s a really quick straight forward read. And then–
WINKLEVOSS: And it really captures the art of startups and entrepreneurship. It’s a really good quick way to understand how that world works because you don’t learn it in a classroom–
WINKLEVOSS: — usually. You don’t learn it in a (inaudible) education, usually on high school so I think that’s a quick way to kind of get up on it.
RITHOLTZ: What else? What else do you guys read?
WINKLEVOSS: So, I think “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson–
WINKLEVOSS: — is phenomenal. I think it was written in the ‘80s and he pretty much like depicts virtual reality in an amazing way. So that’s a great book and just becoming more and more relevant by the day. And then I think “Cryptonomicon”–
RITHOLTZ: I knew you were going to go there.
WINKLEVOSS: Also by Stephenson.
WINKLEVOSS: By Stephenson and it basically bitcoin is — you’re reading it and you’re like this s bitcoin.
WINKLEVOSS: And how incredible he — this guy, he predicts VR and predicts bitcoin. So if people have read–
RITHOLTZ: Decades in advance.
RITHOLTZ: Not even like–
RITHOLTZ: — right before.
WINKLEVOSS: No, yes.
RITHOLTZ: It was so far ahead.
WINKLEVOSS: And so if you’ve read “Ready Player One,” it’s sort like the newer version on “Snow Crash.” But those are really fun, incredible, there’s so much more than just like oh he predicts bitcoin and VR.
But also I think you’re going to see this convergence of the two worlds of VR gaming and Crypto and payments. That’s going to be fascinating to see play out. So these are great books to kind of go back to where it all stared.
RITHOLTZ: Quite interesting. Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from the experience.
WINKLEVOSS: It’s a great question. I mean I think a lot of times when people think of failure, they think of some epic decision or thing that went wrong. And I think certainly if you’re in the game long enough, you’re going to have those. I think we sort of learned early on how to puck your partners wisely.
But I think in the sport of rowing, a lot of times you go out and you have a bad practice. And you feel pretty bad about the performance but it only lasts long until the next practice. And so you build this — you sort of live with failure in a way. And most of the Olympians and gold medalists that we know lost a lot more races than they won.
So, you really learn to embrace failure, to process it, and then just to keep moving on and realize that as you push forward it’s just going to be part of that experience.
And I think the people who stay in the game whether it’s entrepreneurs or investors through the long haul, like they do well. It’s the people that sort of fail or leave after a year or two; they kind of miss out on all the other stuff.
RITHOLTZ: What do you guys do for fun?
WINKLEVOSS: That’s a good question. Everybody wants to start a start up. And then when you get in, you realize how much work it is. There is not too much time for fun, but if there’s downtime we’ve been doing some skiing lately, really enjoy getting out in the mountain, the energy workouts, very social, its fun.
Love reading, love watching movies, simple things that just are sort of relaxing, seeing friends. But yes when you start a company, it definitely–
RITHOLTZ: All consumes–
WINKLEVOSS: It’s all consuming — the thing I would equate it to most and I don’t have kids, but I imagine it’s kike having a family having kids, you don’t just check in from 9:00 to 5:00, it’s a 24/7 thing that you live with and it’s all encompassing. There’s really — it blurs between work time and non-work time. It’s sort of like always there.
RITHOLTZ: I think that’s a generational thing because the current generation are helicopter parents. Go back 30 or 40 years and the latchkey generation, parents would occasionally check in. But your point is well made.
So, withincCrypto and or venture capital, what are you most excited about? What do you think is really the most interesting disruptive thing that’s going to come of those spaces?
WINKLEVOSS: So I think Crypto is going to usher in Web 3.0. Right now we have basically an internet that’s built up of a few centralized services. And I think we’re going to see sort of the decentralization of many of these services. And users are going to realize that they should really be getting compensated for their content.
Right now, we are all part of the social networks and we are the product and we’re creating tons of content and not getting anything for it. So I think that there is going to be a huge shift in that direction. And Crypto currency is going to be part of that solution in ushering in the Web 3.0.
And then what we’re seeing is a lot of — building a brand these days, it’s really fascinating because you can just go direct to consumer. You don’t need the fixed cost of a brick and mortar. We’re in one company called Dirty Lemon (ph) where literally you just order through text, it’s SMS. Its super simple and they have a store downtown that’s not even manned by any individuals.
You — you go by. There’s a — there’s a camera, you put in your order and you just take — take what you want. It’s truly automated. And then there’s lots of other brands that I think are going to you know innovate and then get scooped up by larger incumbents. So it’s — it’s a really interesting time to be building brands and things like that.
RITHOLTZ: If a millennial or a college student came up to you and said I’m interested in fill in the blank; start ups, venture capital, crypto; what sort of advice would you give them?
WINKLEVOSS: So I think that the — the big piece of advice, I would say, is that whatever you choose to do you should definitely look at crypto but if you don’t like crypto that’s fine.
But you should be looking at the minimum of a four year cycle. We see it in our shop at Gemini that it takes about six months for an engineer to get up to speed and be truly productive at that optimal level. And then it — you know it takes another six months to just sort of learn and — and — and understand how the company works.
WINKLEVOSS: Remember where the cold brew is, all those things.
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, you got to know where the coffee is, right. And I think a lot of times people, their horizon, the patience isn’t there and they’re looking to just sort of switch and a lot like quickly.
And when we look at like our — you know I look historically at (ph) we did. I mean we were in the sport of rowing for 15 years and it wasn’t until the 11th year where we thought you know hey, maybe we could potentially make the Olympics.
And it took — you know it wasn’t — it wasn’t months, it wasn’t — it was over a decade. So I think what we’ve learned is like patience is huge. We’ve only been in crypto currency and I say only for five years. Most people would think that’s a lifetime.
WINKLEVOSS: But it’s sort of like dog years, crypto currency. So.
WINKLEVOSS: Yes, but like …
RITHOLTZ: How long — when — when — this is mid 2000s right? So it’s not like there’s a 50 year history.
WINKLEVOSS: Totally. And — and a lot of people, they look at the crypto winner right now and they say wow, this is like so bad. And honestly, most of the time we’ve been in it there’s been winter. Gemini — the first two years of Gemini people weren’t thinking about crypto.
They didn’t really, you know, weren’t paying attention. And all of the sudden, boom, they’re paying attention. But I think patients overall, if that’s the TLDR (ph) of my comment.
WINKLEVOSS: I mean there’s such a dearth of engineers and then if you go to security engineers or like infrastructure engineers, it’s even harder to find them. So if you want job security, like become an engineer. Learn how to talk to machines.
But I also think the — with that movement, being able to think creatively, being like artistic and following things that sort of foster that in you is going to be super important because you’re going to have A.I., you’re going to have machines and all this automation.
But machines aren’t good at being creative, humans are. So really taping into the creative of — of being human and the human spirit and understanding how to like — how it intersects with machines is going to be like paramount to navigating the future.
RITHOLTZ: And our final question, what do you know about the world of investing be it venture capital, crypto, or what have you that you wish you knew 10, 15 years ago when you were first getting your legs under you?
WINKLEVOSS: That’s a good question. Well, I always wish I had a crystal ball. I think — you know what Cameron said before is patience is — is — is so big. Rome wasn’t built in a day; startups won’t be built in a day. We — we talk about like the timeline of building a company in the 1930s were so much more longer — long than the — than the ones today.
But whether you’re investing — like you can have a long term vision but if you don’t have the patience of the conviction to wait it out and if you’re just quarter to quarter or day to day, then you can get pinched.
So you know markets are rational and efficient in the long run but in the short run they’re not. And the same thing as an athlete, you’re just not going to make — become a different athlete like overnight.
And so I think the wisdom, the common sense of sort patience, get rich slowly is another thing I like to think about. All of that, you know, true value type investor mentality. You know I think that’s super — super important.
It’s easy to forget but you know there’s also — I love this saying if you want it bad you get it bad. Don’t like — I think the Navy Seals don’t — say like don’t run to your death. I think patients and just having a long — a long term, long ball (ph) type mentality is pretty much any — everything in investing, entrepreneurship and life.
RITHOLTZ: Quite — quite fascinating. We have been speaking with Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss of Winklevoss Capital and Gemini, a crypto exchange. If you enjoyed this conversation well, look up and enter it down in (inaudible) Apple iTunes, (inaudible) overcast Bloomberg.com, wherever your finer podcast are sold and you can see any of the other 250 or so such conversations we’ve had in the past.
We love your comments feedback and suggestions, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be remiss if I did not thank the correct staff that helps us put together these conversations each week.
Madena Parwana is my producer. Taylor Riggs is our booker/producer. Atika Valbrun is our project manager. Michael Batnick is our head of research. I’m Barry Ritholtz. You’ve been listening to “Masters in Business” on Bloomberg radio.
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