When the world first learned that Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss were bitcoin bulls, the cryptocurrency that started it all was having a horrible day, having collapsed by 60% from what was then an all-time high of $266 down to a measly $120, according to a 2013 New York Times report. The Winklevoss brothers then valued their holdings at around $11 million.
Today, bitcoin’s forecast is hardly any better; it has lost 80% of its total value, down from its all-time-high of $19,000 to about $3,500 today. But it’s that relative price increase of 2,800%—and a number of other milestones—that the brothers think shows they’re on the right path.
So, instead of holing up their forces for a brighter day, Tyler and Cameron now employ more people than ever and just moved to some fancy new Park Avenue offices. Instead of giving up after multiple failed attempts to get a bitcoin ETF license from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the brothers have changed tack and are launching their first mobile application and a new crypto fund.
While the crypto industry is in many ways in retreat, the Winklevoss brothers are digging in.
“We can weather this downturn,” said Gemini president, Cameron Winklevoss.
The brothers say the mobile app is part of an expanded focus that has been in the works for months. In addition to letting existing customers set alerts and make purchases in any of Gemini’s five cryptocurrencies, the mobile app now in Apple’s App Store and Google Play lets new users initiate know-your-customer proceedings including facial recognition and other bio-metric proofs using the mobile device camera.
Also announced today, Gemini has launched the Cryptoverse Fund, an investment vehicle available in the mobile app that consists of a mixture of bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin, zcash, and the recently added bitcoin cash—all of which have been added with approval by the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS)—weighted by market cap.
To give an idea of exactly how rough the cryptocurrency market is that the brothers are launching these products into, the overall market cap has declined from its peak of $817 billion in January 2018 to $110 billion today. Collectively, the market caps of all five of the cryptocurrencies Gemini now trades have declined about 78% from about $356 billion in December 2018 to $75 billion today.
Nevertheless, the brothers remain undaunted, focusing steadfast on their belief that the underlying blockchain technology will lay the foundation for a new less-centralized financial infrastructure.
“For many years when we were building Gemini, price wasn’t a thing. Bitcoin was a $200 coin,” said Cameron. “Then, last year is actually an anomaly, and almost, you could argue, a distraction.” While a representative of Gemini declined to share how much cryptocurrency the brothers currently owned, or even if they owned any, in 2016, they confirmed they had a “material” stake in ether, according to a CoinDesk report.
The launch of the Gemini mobile app may seem like a long-overdue achievement, given that U.S. competitors like Coinbase and Kraken launched their mobile apps in October 2013 and September 2014 respectively. But Gemini has been focused largely on building out a financial infrastructure targeting institutions first, trusting to a more organic approach to the way it attracts retail investors.
To give some perspective, while Coinbase only received its banking charter in October 2018, and Kraken still operates without a charter, limiting the kinds of business it can legally conduct, Gemini won its charter from the NYDFS all the way back in October 2015. Following multiple failed attempts to obtain another license from the SEC to offer a bitcoin Exchange Traded Fund (ETF), the launch of a mobile app signals an expanded interest in specifically targeting retail investors.
“You’re going to see that the product story and the individual customer narrative, is going to be a bigger part of 2019,” said Tyler Winklevoss, Gemini’s chief executive officer, who joined his brother, speaking with Forbes at the company's new three-floor offices. Gemini declined to share customer numbers, but to give an idea of growth, the firm has doubled in size over the past year, according to a representative, and currently employs almost 200 people at the new 50,000 square foot location.
While such a hiring trajectory flies in the face of some crypto firms like ethereum incubator ConsenSys, which has had difficulty over the downturn and plans to layoff as much as 13% of its staff, it aligns with a Glassdoor report that showed a 300% increase in crypto jobs year over year. The blockhchain-focused Web3 Foundation, tells Forbes it doubled its staff this quarter exclusively on crypto-related hires, and will continue to make key hires into next year.
“While some capital might be leaving the market," Cameron acknowledged. "the human capital is really impressive, and it’s long-term capital. People don’t make decisions to enter crypto on a month-to-month or price to price basis.”