The Winklevoss Twins: an unlikely pair of Crypto billionaires
The Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, are the enigmatic crypto billionaires behind the US-based Gemini cryptocurrency exchange. The Winklevi – as they are sometimes called – are not your typical “techbro” founders. The Winklevoss twins’ journey to establish Gemini is atypical. Traditionally, crypto was the home of the inherently anti-establishment fringes of deep tech. Cameron and Tyler are anything but anti-establishment. Some would go so far as to call them “the establishment” personified. Connecticut-born, with Harvard undergraduate degrees and Oxford MBAs, Cameron and Tyler started off on a very traditional path.
It has been suggested by some that the Winklevi’s blue blood roots make Gemini a more attractive partner for tradfi firms wanting to explore the digital asset space. Even CBA, Australia’s biggest bank, took out a minority stake in Gemini last November in a move to broaden its offering to retail customers. However, more recently, CBA has announced that it is suspending its crypto pilot program.
One presumes the interest in the brothers’ work remains. Nonetheless, with this suspension comes questions about the CBA-Gemini partnership. Here we examine the Winklevoss twins journey into crypto and the likelihood that Gemini will remain the trusted partner of tradfi firms into the future.
Before getting involved in crypto the twins were famous for their connection to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Thanks to their depiction in the 2010 film The Social Network, the friction between Zuckerberg and the Winklevi is well known. In 2004 the brothers sued Zuckerberg, claiming that in creating Facebook he had copied their idea. The suit ultimately ended in a settlement, whereby the twins were awarded US$65 million in damages.
In between suing Facebook and dabbling in their own businesses the Winklevoss twins also competed at the 2008 Olympics in rowing. Competing at the Olympics would be an achievement in of itself, with many Olympic rowers focusing on the pursuit full time. However, the brothers’ sporting prowess came in addition to their entrepreneurial grit and that led many to believe that there is simply nothing the twins cannot do. Competing together in the men’s coxless pair race, Cameron and Tyler ultimately finished in 6th position in their event.
Following the Olympics, the twins enrolled at Oxford University and completed their MBA at the prestigious Said School of Business. After finishing their MBA they tried their hand at venture capital investing, but found they were frozen out by the Silicon Valley crowd with startups reluctant to take investment from the twins, fearing reprisal from tech industry titan Facebook.
Introduction to crypto
It was not until 2013 that the pair were introduced to the world of crypto. They quickly became fascinated with Bitcoin and were drawn to the notion that the supply of the cryptocurrency did not rely on any central authority. They also appreciated Bitcoin’s resemblance to gold from a scarcity perspective in that the supply is fixed at 21 million Bitcoin. It was at this point that they began investing in BTC itself, with some reports suggesting that they invested when BTC was as cheap as US$10.00.
Investing in crypto itself was soon followed by the twins making investments in crypto companies. In 2013 they became involved in the company BitInstant, a very early Bitcoin exchange. BitInstant became embroiled in the Silk Road scandal with CEO Charlie Shrem later imprisoned for running an unlicensed money business. The Winklevoss twins distanced themselves from Shrem and later sued him claiming he had stolen millions of dollars worth of BTC from them.
The beginnings of Gemini
In 2014 the Winklevoss’ founded Gemini. For anyone interested in astrology the name of the business would spur a knowing smile – the zodiac symbol for Gemini is twins. Gemini markets itself as a cryptocurrency exchange as well as a digital asset custodian for institutional clients. Its custody service predominantly relies on a cold storage system, whereby assets are held offline as a security measure.
Gemini is an outlier in crypto exchange space in the sense that it has always moved quickly to ensure compliance with financial securities regulations. This has likely led to its place as the preferred partner for many tradfi businesses needing custody solutions.
In addition to CBA, Gemini has partnerships with State Street, Columbia’s biggest bank Bancolombia as well as Samsung. By all accounts, Gemini is making a name for itself as a fierce competitor in the institutional crypto space.
Where to for Gemini
Seemingly the recent crypto market sell-off has done nothing to dissuade the brothers on their crypto quest. Just two days ago, Cameron took to Twitter to proclaim his bullish stance on Bitcoin.
The Winklevi certainly are an interesting participant in the crypto crowd. Undoubtedly the beneficiaries of the existing status quo, they advocate for Bitcoin and crypto on the basis that it will “disrupt traditional power structures.”
This certainly begs the question would their successes have been possible without Harvard and Oxford – the bastions of traditional power structures?
Perhaps the pair would be well-placed remembering that their attractiveness to tradfi world is that in so many ways they resemble the old world, not the new crypto world.