In this edition of On the Record, I'm speaking with one of the early pioneers of Bitcoin, Bobby Lee. Bobby was one of the co-founders of BTCC, an early Chinese Bitcoin exchange, which he sold in 2018.
Since then, Bobby has become an author ("The Promise of Bitcoin") and has appeared as a cryptocurrency expert on the likes of CoinDesk, Bloomberg, and CNBC.
In 2019, Bobby launched Ballet, a cryptocurrency hard wallet creator that has produced a distinctive credit card-style wallet linked to the Ballet app.
Ballet began life on BalletCrypto.com, but in 2022, the company purchased Ballet.com for a seven-figure fee. Here, we discuss Ballet, the acquisition of Ballet.com, and the cryptocurrency markets future.
How did you find Bitcoin, and why were you so passionate about this cryptocurrency in particular?
So, I discovered Bitcoin in 2011 and started mining Bitcoin. I was living in Shanghai at the time and working full-time at Walmart doing e-commerce for their global e-commerce launch in China. And Bitcoin was just an interesting computer science solution to digital money.
A year and a half later, I went on to start one of the very first Bitcoin exchanges in China.
Your book mentions that you believe digital cryptocurrency is one of the greatest inventions of the past half-century. Why is that?
The invention of the computer, just in the last 100 years, is a huge step for mankind. Then for the computers to be network connected, it's a 1, 2, 3 punch. We have the computers. We have the Internet, and now we can have commerce. Value transfer. Those are the critical components of the digital economy, and Bitcoin is critical for that.
Can you tell me about Ballet, what the service offers, and why you wanted to create a wallet provider after the success of BTCC?
I ran BTCC for five years and sold the company in 2018 at a very good exit. I could have retired. However, by late 2018, I realized my mission was not done.
The industry was lacking an easy-to-use wallet for self-custody of cryptocurrency. The whole ethos of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency is that you want to hold it yourself.
Unlike other type of assets where you have to relinquish control to authorized custodians, you can actually hold cryptocurrency yourself.
However, all the competing products on the market today, all the electronic hardware wallets, are too hard to use for everyday people. So, I decided with my expertise and experience, to build a better product that is easy to use for the billions and billions of people on earth that will eventually get to use it.
So, the outcome is Ballet. Ballet is the world's easiest to use physical hardware wallet.
What made you consider the credit card design for Ballet?
It was a combination of factors. We wanted something portable yet recognizable. We wanted to use stainless steel as something that's very durable. For a combination of reasons, it eventually vectored down into this credit card form factor. It's similar in size and shape but a little bit thicker than a regular credit card.
Where does the brand name Ballet come from? How did you arrive at that name?
I wanted to build a global brand to make it a lasting company. Because we are consumer-facing and our product is physical in nature, I felt that the brand had to have a strong name that is recognizable and has global appeal. So, we settled on the name Ballet.
I wanted to pick a good name that was easy to pronounce globally and not already associated with the FinTech space. More importantly, I wanted something that stands out uniquely and is not similar to any other product or service in our space.
For good or bad, many of our competitors use the words "block", "fi", "finance", "chain", or "bit". All those crazy names. Just mishmash words together.
We wanted a natural word that was easy to pronounce and easy to spell.
How did you go about acquiring Ballet.com? Was it always your intention to acquire the name?
I had always intended to acquire Ballet.com. Initially, we weren't able to get it in 2019, so we had to settle with BalletCrypto.com. We used that for a few years. It helped associate the company with cryptocurrency. Then earlier this year, we were able to talk to the seller through our domain broker and get this deal done.
The acquisition price of Ballet.com was reportedly in the seven-figure range. Why did you value Ballet.com in that price range?
It was a negotiated price. It was a compromise between what we were willing to pay and what the seller was willing to let it go for.
I can see on your product and packaging that the BalletCrypto.com domain is prominent. I assume you'll be replacing BalletCrypto.com with Ballet.com on your packaging. What advantages does Ballet.com have over your original BalletCrypto.com name?
It's a stronger domain that gives us more credibility as a company. When we circulate our business cards and e-mail addresses, everything's Ballet.com. It's more natural and easier to read.
BalletCrypto.com is a long domain. When you spell it out, either by hand or over the phone verbally, it becomes a mouthful. So, just the six letters, Ballet.com, is easier to read. Everything is much better.
Ballet is predominantly an app-based product. How important, then, is the right domain name?
It's still important. Some people have said that domain names were more important in the Web2 days 10 or 20 years ago, and these days everything's a mobile app.
I think it's not necessarily fully true because in the end, e-mail addresses tie back to a domain name. You still need a website as an anchor for the company for tech support, customer service, and for people who don't use mobile apps; how would they come and buy our product?
We do sell our products on Amazon and other retailers, so people may want to learn more about our product, which comes back to the domain. Every large company today, every successful tech company, everyone has a website.
The best example is Tesla. Tesla, when they first started, they started with TeslaMotors.com. Eventually, they upgraded to Tesla.com, and I'm sure that was a multi-million-dollar deal. For us, we see ourselves in a similar position. We started with BalletCrypto.com. Now, we're moving to Ballet.com.
The crypto market has, as you know, dipped recently. What is your outlook for the crypto market in the short term?
I've been in crypto for 11 years, and I've seen many of these cycles. It's very natural because crypto is not mature yet. It has to go through these boom-and-bust cycles as it gains value into a multi-trillion-dollar asset. So, every three or four years, we see these crashes and these hysterical price increases, and we're just in that correction cycle right now.
Is that going to continue over the next five years?
Yeah, it's going to continue for another five or ten years. The price has come down. In November 2021, we reached an all-time high of $69,000 for Bitcoin. Now we're back down to $20,000. For a lot of people, that's a big crash. For someone like me for people who've seen it, it's par for the course. It's nothing unusual.
How does a crypto company, such as Ballet, navigate its way through a bear market?
This is why having strong funding is important. We raised 13 million in a Series A round, so we're very happy to have that under the belt.
Plus, we have a long-term vision. We're building a suite of products and services for a billion users. We're nowhere near there yet, but we feel our solution is truly capable of hitting a billion users. Real-world people using, owning, and holding our product.
We're thinking a decade out. We're planning for the long-term. Our products are designed to have a 20-year lifespan, and that can't be said of any of our competitors.
Thanks to Bobby for taking part in On the Record. If you'd like to find out more about the Ballet cryptocurrency wallet, you can visit Ballet.com.