Right after opening its doors to Europe, Coinbase co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong joined Alex Wilhelm on stage today at TechCrunch Disrupt Europe to discuss the future of bitcoin. The conversation covered everything happening right now around bitcoin, from regulatory issues to bitcoin’s price downfall, merchant adoption and new innovative bitcoin use cases.
“We are in the rebuilding period after the most recent bubble,” Armstrong said. Bitcoin is currently trading just under $400, while it was over $600 a couple of months ago. It’s a big downturn, but apparently nothing to be worried about as price volatility doesn’t seem to affect transaction numbers a lot.
“If you look at the data over the last two years, the number of transactions has continued to grow up. When it comes to the USD volume, bitcoin has gone through three bubble periods,” Armstrong said. But Coinbase also has internal metrics that are deeply related to mainstream bitcoin adoption. “Are deposits growing? Are more people signing up? Are people using bitcoin for commerce? All these numbers are going up month over month.”
Yet, bitcoin is still a novelty in many ways. How can we be sure that bitcoin is not just a fad? “We are just seeing a classic hype cycle. The Internet in 2001, the NASDAQ crashed down. In many ways, bitcoin is the most exciting technology since the Internet, we think,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong is also doing a few meetups in major European cities to introduce Coinbase to local bitcoin communities, and he sees a lot of excitement in Berlin, London, Paris, Amsterdam. These bitcoin developers aren’t representative of the average bitcoin user, but Coinbase also works very hard to bring online merchants on board and make them accept bitcoin payments.
“Overstock was the first billion dollar merchant to accept bitcoin payments, now there are ten of them,” Armstrong said. And Coinbase’s API is not only for very big merchants. “If you look on GitHub what people are building, they use the Coinbase API more than any other,” he said.
And then, there are the regulatory issues. Armstrong was careful not to be to be too critical of New York’s controversial BitLicense proposal. “New York wants to continue to be a leader in finance. They want to protect customers, they want to encourage startups to move there,” he said. “So far, I don’t think they have accomplished that goal. The BitLicense goes a bit further than any other regulation out there. It’s a little unclear at this point, but at Coinbase we reach out proactively to regulators.”
Armstrong has no choice but to be optimistic about the future of bitcoin regulation. Nothing is set in stone yet, but it’s in the company’s best interest to advocate for less restriction. “I think it’s going to end up a lot like the Internet,” Armstrong said. “Some countries try to regulate the Internet — bitcoin will be very much like that. It will be legal, and there will be some countries with currency control.”