When Satoshi Nakamoto first implemented the first blockchain and invented Bitcoin; he couldn’t have guessed that Bitcoin would be worth $50,000 in 2021 and a $3.2 billion company would be built around this technology.
According to a report by marketsandmarkets the global blockchain market is expected to grow from $3 billion in 2020 to $39.7 billion in 2025. So much so that there are 1000+ companies building products and services in the sector with $1.9 billion in funding in the last 3 years alone. These companies cater to everything from digital currencies, smart contracts, mining, NFTS to handling and storing digital assets.
Blockstream is one such company which not only raised $210 million in August of 2021 but launched a satellite to keep the transactions flowing. Adam Back is at the helm of Blockstream who is one of the few people referenced inside the original Bitcoin whitepaper written by Satoshi Nakamoto. Back’s company “Blockstream” is more than a tech company, it works as a provider of Bitcoin scaling solutions to improve and expand the use-cases in cryptography and other distributed systems. The company’s primary goal has been creating a financial infrastructure based on Bitcoin and its robust blockchain to deliver scalable and secure solutions to make financial markets more stable and efficient in the long run.
In the following, we shall delve deeper into the Blockstream to learn about its background, achievements and figure out how it would lead the way to FinTech innovation.
Satoshi Nakamoto, secret emails and Hashcash
Adam was one of the few people with whom Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin’s anonymous creator shared the early version of the bitcoin codebase, back in 2008. As a kid, Adam Back owned a Sinclair ZX81 computer which was a famous and affordable home computer for general-purpose use in 1981. At a young age, Back taught himself VISUAL, a family of several high-level programming languages and spent most of his free time reverse engineering video games and looking for decryption keys within software packages.
In 1992 Back got into the University of Exeter and completed his Ph.D. in computer science for distributed systems in 1995. As his interest in electronic cash, remailers, and PGP encryption grew, he began to spend one-third of his time on encryption. Adam is better known as one of the pioneers of early digital asset research along with his peers like Wei Dai, Hal Finney, and David Chaum. In 1997, email spams were a nuisance for people having an email address.Back realized the fundamental problem and invented Hashcash to work as a proof-of-work system for anti-DoS by quickly verifiable (yet expensive to create) electronic stamps. Applications of a POW system were avoiding anonymous remailer DoS, name-squatting, blog, and email spam. This made Adam Back the first person to formalize Non-Interactive Forward-Secrecy.
When asked about Bitcoin during a Podcast with Peter McCormack, Adam Back, CEO and co-founder of Blockstream said “There are only going to be 21 million coins, there are billions of people in the world, some reasonable percentage of who might find it interesting to own a piece of Bitcoin.”
A year later, Wei Dai, a well-known computer scientist, and developer of the crypto++ library proposed using Hashcash for mining of pre-bitcoin ecash system called b-money. Similar proposals were made by Nick Szabo in 1998 for bit-gold, Hal Finney in 2005 for RPOW, and finally by the creator of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. Back is also known for implementing credlib, a credential library based on OpenSSL that implements Brands and Chaumian credential systems of Dr. Stefan Brands (founder of Credentica) and David Chaum (founder of DigiCash) respectively.
“I think that one of the most interesting things about Bitcoin, even though the privacy properties are worse … It is decentralized. It’s a fabric that can survive any one company. It’s very survivable. Individual companies can come and go, users can join or leave, and it will keep running as long as there is incentive for miners to mine it.”- Adam Back
As an expert cryptographer and a free-thinker, Back joined the protest against U.S. cryptography export regulations or EARS using his ultra-compact code with his 3-line RSA in Perl signature file. In 1999, the restrictions involving crypto software exports were relaxed and it is believed that the RSA sig played a small yet important role in the eventual results.
Adam Back started his career as an e-cash consultant in Nokia and Credentica (which was later acquired by Microsoft). Later , Back joined the team of Zero-Knowledge Systems as an architect and cryptographer and worked on the Freedom network (an early prototype of Tor).
Adam Back was also involved with several top-tier security companies like Vmware, QWcap, and OneID as a consultant. It was around 2008 when Adam Back leveraged his expertise and co-founded a cloud infrastructure provider, Pi Corp. with Paul Maritz that was later acquired by EMC.
In 2014 Malta, Adam Back and one of the founding members of Blockstream, Austin Hill spent a week contemplating to build an ecosystem to improve Bitcoin infrastructure as they wanted. “Can’t be evil” was the first thing they wrote on a whiteboard. They met and recruited many gifted and passionate blockchain experts (who later became founding members) to work on a project to empower crypto-based infrastructure aka Blockstream.
Adam Back was joined by Pieter Wuille, Jonathan Wilkins, Austin Hill, Erik Svenson, and Jorge Timon. The board of directors of Blockstream named Back as the CEO in 2016 while he was working as the President and COO of the company. By that time Adam Back had gathered a reputation and experience in advanced cryptography and the Bitcoin community for over two decades. As the COO of Blockstream, Back made sure to build a competent and efficient team under his supervision. Many notable figures including Samson Mow, Andrew Poelstra, Christopher Allen, Lawrence Nahum, etc. got involved with Blockstream and contributed to its growth.
"I am honored to take on the CEO position at this important phase in the company's growth and am excited about leading Blockstream to its full potential," said Adam. "We have a world-class team dedicated to building the foundation that will underpin the transformation of finance for years to come."
Blockstream Products and Offerings
Since its inception, Blockstream has concentrated on a long-term outlook towards creating and delivering convenient and secure blockchain-based financial solutions. They have also been investing in research and development to bring improvements in the Bitcoin ecosystem and protocol.
By the end of its founding year, Blockstream raised $21 million in a seed funding round and the very next year in June 2015, the first version of Sidechain Elements was announced. The Elements are open-sourced codes meant to increase Bitcoin’s functionality. Although it was an experimental sidechain in the beginning, its capabilities made it easier for Bitcoin developers to test and use codes then share their proposals for changes.
Following are the industry-favorite products released by Blockstream till date:
- Liquid Network
The liquid network is a settlement sidechain network owned by Blockstream to make Bitcoin transactions faster and more secure by two-way peg and easy digital asset issuance. Several leading cryptocurrency exchanges like Bitfinex, BitMEX, Bitcoin Reserve, Huobi, OKCoin, and others are proud members of the Liquid federation.
- Bitcoin Mining Note (BMN)
Blockstream allows eligible investors to securely invest in special-grade Bitcoin mining hardware and equipment by purchasing a simple token called BMN which is said to entitle the holder to BTC mined by up to 2,000 TH/s of hashrate.
- AQUA Wallet
Blockstream rolled out the AQUA wallet application which supports Bitcoin and Liquid assets (digital assets issued on Liquid Network). This app allows users to buy Bitcoin and Liquid assets using a few easy steps (without needing any documents) and make payments quickly.
- Blockstream AMP
For asset issuance, Blockstream has a product known as AMP which allows two types of asset issuance. With Blockstream AMP API, businesses can quickly issue digital assets like stablecoins, security tokens, etc. based on standards with tracking and ownership restrictions.
- Blockstream Satellite
In 2017, Blockstream released its state-of-the-art Blockstream Satellite which is capable of broadcasting Bitcoin blockchain around the world 24/7. The best thing about Blockstream Satellite is that it functions against network interventions so that areas with poor network connectivity would have access to Bitcoin.
- Blockstream Green
This is a professional-grade Bitcoin wallet that is both secure and yet easy to use for first-timers. Blockstream Green offers API and hardware wallet support which means it can be integrated with Ledger and Trezor.
- Blockstream Jade
Jade is an open-source hardware wallet created by the team of Blockstream to store Bitcoin and Liquid assets that work with Android, Windows, macOS, and Linux. Jade offers top-grade security features like storing private keys in a completely offline environment and Multisig Shield technology.
Competitors, Market Growth, investors, and Partners
For a long time, Blockstream has been acting as an expert professional services provider to companies that are deploying (or planning to integrate) blockchain-based networks within their working models. Blockstream’s team works remotely from across the globe and the number of employees has reached above 70 as of now.
According to our data, Blockstream attained a benchmark valuation of $3.4 billion (as of August 26, 2021). But since this happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, the newfound success seems linked with the rise of digital assets investments by individual and institutional investors. Blockstream has gained the support of investors like Horizons Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Innovation Endeavors, Rabbit Capital, Tencent Holdings, DG Lab fund,among others
Unlike its competitors Kadena, Blockstack, and Messari that aim to accelerate innovations in cryptocurrencies, Blockstream is the only one that has strategic partnership with companies over the years, bolstering its position as a leading FinTech company. In terms of funding raised, Blockstream is currently on top with $286 million while other projects Blockstack ($93.8 million), Kadena ($15 million), and Messari ($26 million) are barely on the same level. Even the total number of website visits for Blockstream has risen since May to 277K per month.
Two years after its creation and as soon as Adam Back held the reins of Blockstream, they announced a strategic partnership with PwC to help companies evaluate cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies. This partnership paved the way for Blockstream to reach industries at all levels and enable them to access, test, use their secure blockchain technology and Bitcoin protocols to find new applications.
"For our clients, understanding new world applications of Bitcoin and blockchain technology, adapting it for myriad uses, and using it optimally are critical to improving financial security, efficiency, and compliance," said Haskell S. Garfinkel, Partner, FinTech Co-Leader, PwC. "We are teaming with Blockstream to offer our joint knowledge and capabilities to clients – giving them one place to go, maximizing expertise, talent, and assets from both organizations."
A year later after the PwC collaboration, Digital Garage and Blockstream extended their partnership terms as announced in 2017 to accelerate blockchain projects in Japan. With this multi-year strategic partnership, Blockstream also received investment from DG Lab Fund increasing the company’s total funding to more than $80 million. The DG Lab Fund I is a joint venture between Digital Garage and Daiwa Securities Group Inc. and has been operational since 2016.
This year, Blockstream launched Liquid Securities platform with a group of partners and well-known cryptocurrency projects including BnkToTheFuture, Zenus Bank, Pixelmatic, and TokenSoft. This platform would offer an easy interface for businesses to issue, handle, and monitor security tokens.
“This is a completely new field, so building security token applications should be engineering-intensive work,” said Simon Dixon, CEO of BnkToTheFuture. “Liquid Securities instead provides us with everything we need to get going out-of-the-box, helping us to get our token issuances to market faster. The fact that Liquid is built by one of the most accomplished teams in the Bitcoin industry gives us even more confidence in the service’s future.”
$286 Million and 3 Funding Rounds
The company has been funded thrice since its foundation by some of the leading entities active in the FinTech sector including Bitfinex, AXA Venture Partners, etc. In its recent series B funding round that wrapped up on August 12, Blockstream raised a total of $210 million. This particular Blockstream funding round was led by Baillie Gifford, a 100-year old UK-based investment management firm, and Bitfinex, one of the leading cryptocurrency exchange and sister companies of Tether, the stablecoin issuer of which are operated and owned by iFinex Inc.
Seed - $21 Million
By the end of 2014, Adam Back invited people who were interested in the second wave of cryptocurrencies. The founding team rented an Airbnb to hold a meeting with a few investors which included many entrepreneurs and well-known pioneers of their respective business sectors. The meeting ended with a seed funding round of $21 million by 40 investors from the internet, technology, and financial services sectors. This round of finances was led by Reid Hoffman, Real Ventures, and Khosla Ventures.
Series A - $55 Million
Two years later, Blockstream raised $55 million in its series A funding round which was led by Horizons Ventures, AXA Strategic Ventures, and Digital Garage. Other investors who participated in this round of financing were AME Cloud Ventures, Blockchain Capital, Mosaic Ventures, Seven Seas Venture Partners, and Batara Eto. By the end of the series A funding round, the Blockstream team also welcomed Frances Kang from Horizons Ventures as the newest member of the Board of Directors.
Series B - $210 Million
Blockstream made headlines on August 24 with a $210 million funding round . This round was led by Baillie Gifford and Bitfinex both of which as part of the series B round giving the Bitcoin infrastructure provider the unicorn status. The fund raised is expected to be leveraged in the growing mining operations of Blockstream that started after the acquisition of Spondoolies, an ASIC device manufacturer.
“We have enormous respect for Blockstream’s founders and management team,” Baillie Gifford said in a statement. “We believe its settlement network for bitcoin-based assets and securities has the potential to transform the design and operation of capital markets.”
What Does the Future Look Like for Blockstream?
Since 2020 Blockstream has accelerated its attempts to improve Bitcoin mining operations as a means of growth for the company. The company receives the Oddup score of 73.11 which is a cumulative metric representing the overall health of an organization including the potential chances for a startup to grow and prosper in its relevant niche.
Blockstream has announced several projects related to the Bitcoin mining process. Through mining facilities like the BMN, the company expects to enter the Bitcoin mining sector by providing non-US yet eligible investors to invest in secure mining capabilities. According to Chris Cook, CIO of Blockstream, offering a mining tradable Blockstream token BMN would provide users more flexibility than traditional investment opportunities.
“We actually expect to have Blockstream-branded miners on the market in Q3 next year,” says Adam Back, CEO of Blockstream
Now that Blockstream has acquired ASIC manufacturer Spondoolies, it intends to use these products for its mining operations and sell them on the retail market for profit.
“We’re aiming to have it sometime in 2022, so there’s a long-time horizon before we’ll be able to get it to market. I’m confident [our team] will be able to work together to get greater efficiency in ASICs and our ability to mine Bitcoin,” Samson Mow said.