You might not have heard of Halsey Minor, but it’s likely that you’ve indirectly benefited from one of his many achievements. He’s one half of the brains behind CNET, the technology media website which, founded in 1994, was in the vanguard of internet firms, and is still one of the most-visited tech information resources in the world.
In 1999, he was the largest financial investor in Salesforce.com, the cloud computing company. At the firm’s IPO in 2004, he was its second-biggest shareholder, with a 10 per cent stake. He talks freely about chats with Yahoo’s Jerry Yang and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. In short, he was there at the birth of the internet, and he was an intrinsic part of its evolution.
After college, Minor had a stint on Wall Street, but quickly realised that it and he had different views on the world. In 1989, he was building an intranet for Merrill Lynch. The internet enticed him because it “created a standard for information exchange” – but also because “it was just really cool. We weren’t financial visionaries – we were doing what we did because we loved it. Everybody started calling us dot–comers... We had absolutely no concept of how big it was going to be”. The internet grew like billy-o, but knowing where it was heading was impossible: “innovations stack on top of each other – you just can’t predict how things will end up”.
This is true of Minor’s own life. At one stage, he was estimated to be worth $400m (£263m). But by 2013, he had declared bankruptcy, reporting debt of $100m and assets of just $50m. Imprudent spending caught up with him. It was a very long way to fall.
The years between 2006 and 2012 were the hardest. Minor got divorced in 2005, and then suffered a six-year battle with depression. “I didn’t go out for six years. I didn’t talk to any of my friends for six years. The [financial] world was melting down too, and I had to get used to lawyers taking over my world. I was reminded what it’s like not to be able to pay your utilities bill.”
Minor eloquently explains the difficult nature of depression – he had never felt like a depressive kind of person, but with the right trigger, the illness creeps up on you. A decade earlier, having just featured on the front cover of Forbes, Minor had gone looking for a father he had never met. It transpired that they had lived just 30 minutes away from each other in San Francisco. But by the time of Minor’s search, the latter had committed suicide, having himself suffered from lifelong depression.
But since 2006, Minor hasn’t had a drink, and in 2012, he stopped taking antidepressants. “It felt like my IQ went up about 20 points, and I started coming back. I was very successful early on, and I just never stopped driving forward. I guess now I’ve learnt how to be kind to myself.”
And now, Minor’s certainly back to what he does best. In 2013, he founded Bitreserve, a bitcoin wallet and holding platform. To him, virtual currencies today are what the internet was 25 years ago – they smell of the future; “it really is where we should be looking,” he says.
His two year-old company aims to “end bitcoin volatility” – and transform how we see money. It enables users to convert bitcoin into dollars, euros, pounds, yen, yuan and more, with each currency being depicted as a “card”. It’s different from other web wallet services because it has no contact with the banking system.
The idea is that, by allowing people to hold bitcoin in different currencies, volatility can be minimised. By simply clicking on a card, a user can transfer a desired amount to another currency. A transfer is charged at 0.45 per cent, and members can send funds to each other at no charge. One of Bitreserve’s largest markets is remittances.
Rather than a revolution, bitcoin has been a “little tent movement,” says Minor. But for him, “it’s a Rubik’s Cube thing. Virtual currencies will change everything, but no normal person is going to want money that can drop in value by half in a day. It needs to be made non-volatile”.
Minor also wants to challenge the banking industry – to level the playing field. Finance is “upside down,” he says. “Money comes from people at the bottom,” but it’s those at the top who decide what to do with it. “People should be able to choose their own form of value. They don’t know that banks aren’t transparent because they’ve got nothing to compare them to. But now, we can start having that conversation.”
Each card on Bitreserve has a list of all its transactions, and a drop-down menu allows you to view each transaction on the public blockchain. Further, to enhance transparency of Bitreserve itself, alongside professional audits, a dashboard on its website allows users to see the company’s real time balance sheet whenever they want.
At the end of last year, Bitreserve raised £6.3m on crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. “We had a great experience with them, they were so thorough. But the question with all of these platforms is whether they can make money.”
Crowdfunding is more evolved in the States than it is here in the UK, but Minor worries that creeping regulation (particularly in the US) will crush innovation and harm customer service – businesses that spring up in response to regulation are never as genuine as those that work hard to germinate the industry.
So China (Bitreserve’s second office is in Shanghai) and the UK are where Minor is focusing his attention. “The UK has a “natural advantage,” he says. “It’s the FX capital of the world. New York has a lot of big business, but they’re big American businesses. London has a lot of international business. The internet of money is centred here and in China.”
Minor has already had a meeting at Number 10, and two meetings with the Bank of England. “I have a much better relationship with [the Bank] than I do with our own Fed. It’s a little more hip with what’s going on in the world of digital money.”
And it seems that Britain is a little more attuned to Minor’s own tastes too. The self-confessed Anglophile now spends half his time in London, and says he feels more at home here than anywhere else: “This has always been my favourite country.” Bitreserve and its potential makes the future exciting, but Minor is also very content with the here and now: “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
Company name: Bitreserve
Job title: Founder and chief executive
Number of staff: 30
Turnover: Just launched
Born: Charlottesville, Virginia
Lives : Los Angeles, California
Studied: Anthropology at the University of Virginia
Drinking: Great coffee
Eating: Peanut butter and jelly (jam!) sandwiches for breakfast and lunch
Currently reading: 1,177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed, by Eric Cline
Favourite business book: A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle
Talents: Finding and motivating talented people
Heroes: My grandfather, “Hippo” Minor
First ambition: To become an astronaut
Most likely to say: “Let’s give it a try”
Least likely to say: Small talk!
Motto: “Life is a balance between making things happen and letting things happen.”