Entrepreneur Clay Collins might be described as a cryptocurrency true believer.
In a conversation last week, he never got around to saying whether he has ever owned any bitcoin or other digital currencies.
What he believes in is the long-term business opportunity for the tools and infrastructure crypto traders and innovators must have to realize their dreams for digital money. He co-founded his new company called Nomics in late 2017, not long before the price of bitcoin neared its all-time high price of nearly $20,000.
Bitcoin’s price has slid more than 80 percent since then, yet Collins’ plans have not changed.
He’s clearly onto something here and well worth watching. After all, the dot-com bubble burst, too, but internet technology turned out to be the basis of a vast global industry.
Collins intends the new company to be a go-to source of trading data, making it possible for traders, media organizations and others to link up and receive accurate and timely information on all the cryptocurrencies actively traded around the world.
Savvy people hearing the story have decided that Collins and co-founder Nick Gauthier must aspire to be the Bloomberg of the crypto market.
Not exactly, Collins said. It’s more like they hope whoever emerges as the Bloomberg of the crypto market relies completely on Nomics for its deep and accurate trove of trading data.
Collins remains best known as the co-founder of Leadpages, a Minneapolis-based producer of marketing software he led through venture-funding rounds and growth to about 175 employees before deciding another CEO should take it from there.
After years of long workweeks, Collins said he thought he could use a break.
That did not last long.
He had met Gauthier, also Nomics’ chief technology officer, looking for acquisitions while still CEO of Leadpages. No deal materialized, but they kept in touch and agreed to work on the crypto project together, getting started in fall 2017.
Last month, Collins announced a $3 million round of venture-capital financing to further develop the company, with money coming from an affiliate of Coinbase, one of the leading exchanges, and other industry players. Local venture firm Arthur Ventures, a Leadpages investor, put in money as well, its first investment in a cryptocurrency-related firm and maybe its last, according to partner Patrick Meenan.
“Nomics is, like, a super boring business,” Collins said. “But I really like boring businesses.”
One term worth knowing here is API, as Nomics calls itself “an API company.” API stands for application programming interface. In general terms, an API is the part of a computer system that fields requests from other computers and then sends back what the other computer wanted.
A website might need to use somebody else’s data to present useful information, like weather data for a metro area, and the website’s owners get what they want from their data provider through an API.
Nomics’ customers usually buy a form of subscription to hook up, a model used by many software firms. Most of the early customers are professional investors, hungry for reliable data on the markets.
Collins said one reason there’s an opportunity is the system’s “permission-less innovation” in digital assets, where entrepreneurs can start working on what he called a decentralized exchange on Monday morning and have it operating by Wednesday, never asking anyone for permission.
It’s a daunting Wild West for anybody looking to get into the market, with the same coin or token likely traded around the world under several different ticker symbols. Time zones and trading hours might not be clear, and some exchanges leave up what’s called a “candle” of that day’s trading that a trader might rely on, unaware that trading ceased two hours before.
Nomics tries to fix those consistency problems, although even Collins had to guess at how many crypto exchanges now exist. Nomics already has data on more than 5 billion trades.
Arthur Ventures’ Meenan knew Collins well from their work on Leadpages, but he approached the new opportunity with some skepticism.
“You can twist yourself up in knots, trying to argue over whether specific cryptocurrencies are valid or if bitcoin is going to replace gold,” Meehan said. “But if you just step back and say, ‘Is this a market that is going to be around for a while with a lot of dollars in it?’ That’s an unequivocal yes.”
And if big banks and hedge funds want to monitor or trade in digital-asset markets, Meenan added, there’s no way they can stay on top of accurate prices for assets traded on upward of 200 exchanges or trust a website for pricing data when they can’t even tell for sure who put that information online.
Nomics needs the digital currency market to expand to be a big business, but Collins doesn’t view recent price movements as all that telling. He pointed out that bitcoin went on a brief run in 2013, and then the price took years to get back to that high, and all the while acceptance of digital currency only grew. On a chart, that 2013 blip in value looks like a speed bump compared to late 2017, but his point is fair.
“Every business that turned out to be big was started a few years ahead of the revolution,” Collins said. “Timing is a weird thing. Being too early is the same thing as being wrong. Being too late is obviously the same thing as being wrong.”
The adoption of new technology tends to be slower than the early enthusiasts think it will or should be, Collins said.
“My parents made their first purchase on Amazon.com like three or four years ago, after it had been around for 20 years,” he said. For digital money, he added, “This is a multi-decade transition.”