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How the Man who Introduced Silicon Valley to Bitcoin First Discovered It

Op-ed - How the Man who Introduced Silicon Valley to Bitcoin First Discovered It

Xapo CEO Wences Casares has been one of Bitcoin’s strongest supporters since 2011, but not many people have heard the story of how he originally got into this new form of digital money.

 The Argentinian-born entrepreneur has been able to create one of the most well-capitalized companies in the space, and he was able to mystify the likes of Dick CostoloMarc AndreessenReid Hoffman and other Silicon Valley giants by transferring roughly $250,000 worth of bitcoin between multiple smartphones within a matter of minutes. But what led Casares to Bitcoin in the first place?

Trying to Send Money to Friends in Argentina

Unlike many of the Bitcoin proponents who talk about how the digital money is going to change the world without having their own, personal need for it, Casares came across Bitcoin while attempting to send money to childhood friends in Argentina. The Xapo CEO explained the process of finding out about Bitcoin on arecent episode of EconTalk:

“I first learned about Bitcoin in 2011. I live in California, in Palo Alto, and a group of childhood friends from Argentina were doing a project where we needed to send money to that project. And I couldn’t send money from California to Argentina, so I was looking to see if my sister, who’s there, could give the friends some money and I could pay her later. And one of my friends – who’s not tech savvy or financially savvy – said, ‘Hey, why don’t you use Bitcoin?’”

Giving Bitcoin a Chance

Although Casares admits he was skeptical at first, he decided to give Bitcoin a chance as a new international payment mechanism. He described the entire process of using Bitcoin to send money to his friends in Argentina in his recent EconTalk interview:

“So, I was curious and I looked [it] up online, and, I think on Craigslist, I found someone who was willing to meet with me at the cafe in Palo Alto and gave me some bitcoin and I gave them the cash. Then, I just got the bitcoin on my cell phone and I sent them to my friend in Argentina and the next day he has . . . [Argentine] pesos. And I just couldn’t believe what happened.”

Many bitcoiners remember the first time they used the digital money because it is a strange feeling to have actual value stored on an electronic device as a string of bits.

“I felt like I was witnessing the beginning of the Internet. It was that kind of fascination,” Casares said.

Abra is the Mainstream Version of Casares’s 2011 Experience

Wences Casares’s story has been repeated many more times all over the world since 2011, and there is now an app that captures the essence of that experience in a user-friendly manner. Abra allows users to send digital cash to anyone else in the world, and that digital cash can then be transferred to local currency via a peer-to-peer (P2P) transfer.

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the app is that it also locks the value of the digital cash to U.S. dollars, which means users don’t need to worry about bitcoin’s price volatility for the duration of the transfer. Abra is powered by smart contracts built on top of the Bitcoin blockchain.

Abra is just now coming to market, but Casares already experienced this new phenomenon four years ago. As time goes by, we will continue to see more apps developed that were first thought of in the early days of IRC chatrooms and threads.

Photo Christopher Michel / Flickr