Winklevoss twins may work with Facebook again

Twins could partner with firm on cryptocurrency

By Clare Duffy, CNN Business
Copyright 2019 CNN

Winklevoss twins look to potentially partner with Facebook on its Libra cryptocurrency.

MENLO PARK, California - Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss have long been known for their legal battle with Mark Zuckerberg over who invented Facebook. That was over a decade ago. Today they have made names for themselves as entrepreneurs in cryptocurrency with a company called Gemini.

"Facebook was a dispute, but it didn't really define who we were as people," Tyler Winklevoss told CNN's Poppy Harlow in an interview for the Boss Files podcast. "Gemini's much more of a representation of who we are, what we stand for, what we're interested in."

But it was hard to ignore their history with Zuckerberg when Facebook announced plans to enter the world of crypto with Libra, a digital coin that just so happens to also be named after a zodiac sign. So, are Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins at it again?

The brothers don't see it that way. In fact, they're looking to potentially partner with Facebook on Libra. Whether or not they do decide to team up with their old rival, the Winklevoss brothers say Libra is a good thing for the industry and a step toward a time when cryptocurrency is ubiquitous.

"I think there is a day in the future where we can't live without crypto, or imagine a world before crypto," Cameron Winklevoss said.

The brothers bought into that vision in the early days of bitcoin, when it was worth around $8, after cashing out some of the wealth they'd earned in Facebook stock from their settlement with Zuckerberg. The value of bitcoin peaked at $20,000 in 2017, and now hovers around $10,000.

It was a bold bet to make on an investment opportunity the brothers first learned about from a guy on an Ibiza beach after "some tequila." But it paid off for the Winklevoss twins, making them, at least for a time, "bitcoin billionaires." (That also happens to be the title of the book about their lives.)

With those returns, the brothers started Gemini in 2014.

Gemini allows people to buy, trade and store digital assets — or cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies have traditionally been decentralized and largely unregulated. The Winklevoss brothers pitched Gemini as a platform people could trust. So they sought and received licenses in New York state as a so-called trust company, similar to many traditional financial institutions, and as a virtual currency exchange.

"We often say trust is our product," Cameron Winklevoss said. "And we're trying to basically build a safe and easy way for that person in the Midwest, if they want to buy a piece of crypto, to do it, just like they do at their brokerage account, just like a share of Apple or a share of Amazon."

Gemini is now available in 49 states and Washington, DC, as well as in the United Kingdom, Singapore and several other countries, and it's seeking regulatory approval in other areas around the world. While the company does not publicly share user numbers or revenue, its staff has grown to more than 200 people working out of offices in New York, Portland and Chicago.

Gemini's desire to work with regulators positions the company well amid ramped up calls by US lawmakers for increased oversight of cryptocurrency. It could also make the Winklevoss brothers a valuable partner for Libra. The push for new regulations has been driven largely by the Libra announcement. Legislators fear Libra could give Facebook too much power, and a rapid buy-in to cryptocurrency driven by the social network's massive audience could destabilize government-backed fiat currencies, like the US dollar.

The Winklevoss brothers said they've been in talks with Facebook about joining the project's governing body, the Libra Association. Facebook already announced the 28 "founding members" of the association, including Gemini competitor Coinbase, but has said it hopes to have 100 members by Libra's launch in early 2020.

The brothers said they're waiting to learn more about the project before deciding whether to join the association or to list Libra on the Gemini exchange, which they said is another possibility. The Libra Association told CNN Business that it does not comment on ongoing conversations with potential members.

Ultimately, the twins don't think Facebook will be the last big tech company to try to launch a cryptocurrency. Cameron Winklevoss expects every one of the FAANG companies — Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google — to get into crypto.

"I think that internet companies have to have a crypto strategy, and I think a lot of them are thinking about their own coin projects. They're probably watching Libra and Facebook to see how that fares as they develop it," Cameron Winklevoss said.

One company well-suited for such a coin, he said, is Amazon.

"Amazon can probably get packages to literally any place in the world, even if the last mile is on a dirt bike or something," Cameron Winklevoss said. "What you can't get is paid for those goods, which is very ironic, that the physical stuff we can move all around the world and we can't get money to a lot of places around the world."

That's just one of the ways the brothers expect cryptocurrency to change the world, and they say there's more to come.

"We're in the bottom of the first inning," Tyler Winklevoss said. "The game really hasn't started."

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