Inside Austin’s bitcoin underground

Inside Austin's bitcoin underground

AUSTIN — There’s a type of clubhouse for Austin’s bitcoin believers on the second flooring of the Littlefield Constructing on the nook of Congress Avenue and Sixth Road. The hideaway is on the crossroads of two worlds — the majestic thoroughfare that results in the Texas State Capitol and the enduring, albeit infamous, stretch of bars, eating places, and dwell music that outline the capital’s get together vibes. It is an apt metaphor for the area itself.

The Bitcoin Commons is, without delay, many issues.

By day, it capabilities as an open plan, fluorescent-lit co-working area for the extra corporate-minded bitcoin operators, however at night time, it moonlights as a protected area for underground meet-ups of the trade’s rogue actors. Periodically, it performs host to conferences that attract a mixture of attendees starting from enterprise capitalists to armed preppers dwelling completely off the grid. And on some afternoons, as soon as pleased hour hits, the kitchen on the again is retrofit with a stowaway bar.

“We also fund developers, and we help them advance their projects,” mentioned Parker Lewis, one of many stewards of the Commons, in addition to the writer of a brand new guide on bitcoin known as “Gradually, Then Suddenly.”

“We help advance bitcoin through education and actually developing the monetary network, the code base, and the applications,” mentioned Lewis, who’s extensively thought-about to be one in all Texas’ de facto bitcoin ambassadors.

Francisco Chavarria was born in Mexico Metropolis and hung out in Salt Lake Metropolis, however three years in the past, he made the transfer to Austin to be part of a neighborhood of like-minded thinkers. His firm, Yopaki, which is a neobank for bitcoin targeted on the Latin American market, simply received first place in a hackathon placed on on the Commons.

“If you talk to other builders in the competition, a lot happens here,” mentioned Chavarria. “There definitely is a sense of, ‘I don’t need for others to lose for me to win.’ There really is a relationship and a collaboration for bitcoin to succeed.”

“Right now it feels like we’re all winning because of the price, but those of us who have been building in the bear market, we know,” Chavarria added.

Austin’s “Bitcoin Commons” hosts common meetups and conferences for the town’s bitcoiners.


Bear or bull market, bitcoiners have flocked to Austin due to a mixture of pro-crypto insurance policies, considerable, renewable vitality, and an ever-growing community of among the brightest builders and miners on the planet. And even within the worth doldrums, they usually carry the identical degree of enthusiasm to the dialog — although bitcoin’s current stretch of record-breaking price moves has gone a great distance towards boosting morale.

In March, bitcoin hit a number of, contemporary all-time highs, as dealer enthusiasm for the digital asset sector soared. Lots of that worth run-up has to do with the record flows into the newly-launched spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds within the U.S., led by the world’s largest asset supervisor Blackrock and its $15.5 billion iShares Bitcoin Trust, which have helped to solidify bitcoin’s place as an asset class that is right here to remain.

Collectively, these spot ETFs have introduced in round $60 billion, and in some circumstances, they’ve been breaking information for ETF flows altogether.

“The biggest driver is certainly the ETF flows, which have surpassed the expectations of all but the most bullish pundits,” mentioned Fort Island Enterprise’s Nic Carter of bitcoin’s report worth strikes this month. “And these blockbuster flows have materialized before the major wirehouses, asset managers, and RIAs have actually approved the ETF for their clients.”

Carter added that there’s additionally new liquidity coming into bitcoin from Asian markets through two principal pathways: bitcoin’s model of non-fungible tokens generally known as ordinals, in addition to bitcoin-issued cash known as BRC20 tokens.

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Underground vibes with an open bar

Within the final 20 years, Austin has matured into one of many nation’s main tech facilities, a pattern accelerated by the Covid pandemic, which noticed trade leaders migrate en masse from California.

“Bitcoin was founded in 2009. A lot has happened post-financial crisis. Austin was already emerging as a tech center, and you know, enter bitcoin, and it just became the logical home,” mentioned Lewis, who runs enterprise improvement at Zaprite, a bitcoin-native monetary providers agency.

It helps that Texas is a libertarian-friendly state that actively helps free market insurance policies. It has confirmed to be an enormous draw for a gaggle of people that consider bitcoin as a lifestyle — that’s, a financial community that’s decentralized, borderless, and would not reply to central banks or governments.

Austin’s “Bitcoin Commons” attracts in an eclectic combine of individuals, together with enterprise capitalists, bitcoin miners, and coders.


Many hardcore bitcoiners mockingly embrace the time period maximalist or maxi as a approach to self describe. In Texas, although maxis exist alongside knowledgeable spectrum from enterprise capitalists, to miners, coders, firm executives, and generalist techies, the eclectic tribe have a number of issues in widespread. Many are family-oriented, patriotic carnivores with an aversion to the overreach of presidency and a powerful perception in the precise to bear arms, amongst a number of different private, particular person liberties.

Bitcoin’s eponymous Austin lair, which is adorned with the Texas state flag and bitcoin memorabilia, has adopted Chatham Home guidelines for a lot of of its occasions to guard the identities of these conversing inside its partitions. One such meetup is the month-to-month BitDevs (brief for bitcoin builders) gathering, the place bitcoin builders, buyers, and the bitcoin curious are all welcomed, as long as no photos or movies are taken.

At these conferences, subjects run the gamut, from detailed discussions about code to issues that the Microsoft-maintained GitHub might pose a better existential menace to the bitcoin community since a lot of the event work and conversations amongst coders occur on that platform. At one such gathering, the moderator of the two-hour session requested the room who ran a bitcoin node. Greater than half of the individuals in attendance raised their arms.

After attending a number of Austin BitDev meetups during the last three years, a number of widespread dialog themes have emerged, together with the concentrate on figuring out menace vectors to the community and brainstorming workarounds. Past software program, there are additionally issues over {hardware} vulnerabilities, on condition that the ASIC chip utilized in bitcoin mining rigs are manufactured out of China, a rustic which has confirmed hostile to the crypto sector in recent times.

The “Bitcoin Commons” capabilities as a type of clubhouse for the town’s bitcoin believers. It places on a mixture of programming, together with conferences and hackathons, in addition to hosts a co-working area by day.


VCs flock again to bitcoin

The Commons hosted a hackathon, BitDevs, and a one-day convention dubbed the Bitcoin Takeover on the sidelines of the annual South by Southwest tech competition, which placed on nearly no crypto programming this yr.

Throughout these a number of gatherings, there was a newfound curiosity in speaking in regards to the burgeoning ecosystem of initiatives constructing on high of bitcoin’s blockchain, which started to warmth up with the introduction of ordinals in Jan. 2023 — bitcoin’s model of non-fungible tokens.

One underrated driver of bitcoin’s current rally is new programming improvements that might enable it to succeed in technological parity with ethereum. These developments contain beefing up the bitcoin ecosystem with instruments like good contracts, that are programmable items of code that assist to get rid of middlemen like banks and legal professionals from transactions. That makes it simpler for builders to create merchandise and functions for shoppers.

BitVM, for instance, has a promising plan to just do that. It’s in the end making an attempt to carry good contracts to the bitcoin community, which has helped spur this renaissance of curiosity in layer two know-how — that’s, the startups being constructed on high of bitcoin’s base chain.

“I’ve never seen deal pacing move this aggressively in the bitcoin space in my entire career,” Carter tells CNBC.

Certainly, the VC urge for food for these layer two bitcoin initiatives has been choosing up in the previous few months.

PitchBook says that the fourth quarter of 2023 was the primary time in nearly two years that deal worth within the crypto sector had elevated, reaching $1.9 billion — up 2.5% from the earlier quarter. While still well off the 2021 high of $31 billion, funds are constructing again curiosity, and belief, within the area.

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Grant Gilliam spent 15 years working in personal fairness in New York earlier than pivoting to run a bitcoin VC fund called Ten31. This funding platform, which is concentrated completely on bitcoin, has invested $125 million of fairness in combination since launching 5 years in the past. Greater than $100 million was deployed within the final two years in the course of the bear market.

“We invest across the bitcoin ecosystem across every major theme,” Gilliam informed CNBC. “Anything that is relevant to bitcoin infrastructure, we like to say the picks and shovels of companies building products and services for holders of bitcoin.”

Gilliam, who spent a number of years commuting from New York to Austin each month for the BitDevs meetup, mentioned that among the layer two bitcoin investments are extra hype than substance, however he is nonetheless bullish total on the deal area. 

“There’s been a lot of L2 hype lately, mainly driven by the ordinals, and inscriptions, developments or innovations, if you want to call it that,” Gilliam mentioned. “There’s a lot of activity in that right now, but we haven’t been as focused on that. It’s our firm view that the ordinals will prove to be a passing fad.”

Gilliam says that Ten31 is concentrated on fundamental constructing blocks of the ecosystem, equivalent to corporations which might be offering monetary providers, which may very well be custody buying and selling and lending, or initiatives which might be working to scale the lightning community.

Lightning, with is the layer two cost know-how meant to comprehend bitcoin’s unique imaginative and prescient of being peer-to-peer money continues to wrestle with the difficulty of reaching scale. Builders inform CNBC that a variety of engineering work stays to shut that hole.

The Boys Membership put by itself Austin summit on the sidelines of SXSW with programming on the brand new web, crypto, and digital tradition.


Bitcoin-halving nation

“Number go up” is an enormous mantra amongst bitcoiners, however because the neighborhood evolves, so too does the excited about the value of the coin.

“Price is really an output of many inputs of human beings, building tools to make bitcoin both more secure and a greater utility,” Lewis mentioned. “Price is the best indicator of more people coming to the conclusion that bitcoin is money, and it’s a better store of value, so it is very relevant.”

Each 4 years, bitcoin undergoes a market making occasion generally known as the halving. It cuts the manufacturing of recent bitcoin in half, and it has usually come earlier than a serious run-up within the worth of bitcoin.

Miners from around the globe flocked to Texas when China banned the follow in 2021, attracted by the considerable renewable vitality and a grid that is pleasant to versatile consumers of energy — each preferrred circumstances for miners.

In April, nevertheless, the earnings for these bitcoin miners might be lower in half.

For some, it could show an Armageddon-level occasion. Others have braced for impression by swapping out their fleet of machines for extra environment friendly rigs. The worth run-up in bitcoin has additionally helped to present a few of these corporations a buffer of their revenue margins.

West Texas miner Jamie McAvity has 60 megawatts at his mining website. It runs on part of the grid that’s 90% powered by a mixture of photo voltaic and wind energy.

“If you’ve been in for more than one cycle, you have situated yourself in a place where you can resist the halving to the best of your ability,” McAvity informed CNBC at Austin’s Bitcoin Commons.

McAvity, who beforehand labored for ten years as a dealer on the ground of the New York Mercantile Change, added that ETF flows have helped to vary the pricing dynamics for the world’s largest coin.

“The spot ETF inflows are so massive that reducing the available supply of newly mined bitcoins from 900 to 450, is probably going to be immaterial relative to that,” he mentioned.

“But who knows, the ETFs could cool off for a while, and it’s hard for someone to credibly say that a reduction in supply is not going to change the market price equilibrium, because that’s a fundamental principle of market economics,” he added.

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Altcoin mania

A ten minute stroll west from the Bitcoin Commons is the Austin Correct Resort, a five-star institution the place the lighting is deliberately dim to strike a sure temper. Right here, the Boys Membership, a well-liked and buzzy, female-led group which self-describes as a “social collective bringing new voices to the new internet” put by itself crypto convention on the sidelines of South by Southwest.

The Boys Membership caters to a extra blockchain agnostic crowd, the place the main focus is much less on exclusivity to 1 coin or chain — and extra about borrowing the most effective options from throughout the ecosystem to unravel issues in the actual world.

CNBC caught up with Micha Benoliel on the one-day summit. Benoliel constructed Nodle, a decentralized wi-fi community that is now entering into the enterprise of utilizing the blockchain to battle AI-powered deepfakes.

“Blockchain is the only way to make a record that is immutable, and is going to prove the time at which this photo has been taken, or video, and also to help you prove the location and other elements that are going to reinforce that proof, so it creates a real immutable proof of authenticity,” he mentioned.

The Boys Membership put by itself Austin summit on the sidelines of SXSW with programming on the brand new web, crypto, and digital tradition.


The one-day popup occasion gathered collectively extra of a web3 crowd to speak about all the pieces from the newest traits in tokenization to the resurgence of on-chain meme tradition.

Just like different bull runs within the worth of bitcoin, some altcoins have seen a meteoric rise alongside blue chip names in crypto, as a result of they’re seen as a relatively cheaper purchase.

Dogecoin, a meme-coin that was began as a joke, now has a market cap of almost $25 billion, inserting it within the high ten most dear cryptocurrencies on the planet. Boden, a coin named after President Joe Biden, noticed a run-up of greater than 800% in a six-hour window after Tremendous Tuesday, and the newly common DogWifHat is collectively price greater than $2 billion.

Sometimes, that is the bellwether of a peak bubble second, however analysts say that regardless of frothy circumstances, this bull run is totally different to previous cycles.

The worth of bitcoin is cyclical, and it sees worth run-ups roughly each 4 years. Every time, the value flooring is larger. What’s additionally a departure this time round is the truth that institutional cash is right here in a manner that it hasn’t been throughout previous bull runs.

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Fundamentals within the crypto market are enjoying an enormous position, as effectively.

In a observe from JPMorgan on Mar. 15, analysts credit score ether, the world’s second-biggest crypto token by market cap, for being a big driver of crypto’s current positive factors, together with Coinbase‘s inventory worth rise. Ether has rallied almost 50% to this point this yr, lately breaching the $4,000 worth degree and outpacing bitcoin’s returns, earlier than paring again some positive factors.

“While the focus of the cryptocurrency marketplace has been the net new money going into U.S. spot Bitcoin ETFs and the positive impact on Bitcoin token prices (here, the spot Bitcoin ETF and its ultimate launch in January has driven the cryptoecosystem over the past several months), we see impact of ETH appreciation also as particularly meaningful,” JPMorgan wrote.

Regulators within the U.S. stay a common concern for the crypto sector, particularly amid reports of the Securities and Change Fee probing crypto corporations constructing on the ethereum community.

Nonetheless, many within the area, together with coders and buyers stay optimistic.

Ethereum, the blockchain that underpins ether, underwent a serious improve on Mar. 13 dubbed Dencun. Builders informed CNBC it was anticipated to slash transaction charges by as much as 90%. That’s game-changing not only for the end-users, but in addition for the coders constructing apps on high of ethereum.

Base, crypto alternate Coinbase’s self-built layer two network, is ethereum-based and permits builders to extra simply construct decentralized apps. Coinbase’s Base lead, Jesse Pollak, anticipates it will open the door to functions in each the gaming and decentralized social media area now that it’s now not almost as value prohibitive to construct some of these applications.

The thing that is happening with Dencun is we’re going to create a whole new kind of storage on ethereum that’s purpose built for Layer 2s like Base,” Pollak informed CNBC.

“That means that right now we pay a ton to ethereum, and we’re going to pay a lot less, which is going to lower the fees for everyone. Because ethereum is basically going to build a product purpose built for us,” continued Pollak.

Chris Dixon, crypto chief at enterprise agency a16z, echoed that sentiment, noting that a part of their portfolio is concentrated on these startups.

“The core idea is that if you build a social network, or a game or a financial service, on top of the blockchain, it has all sorts of benefits where the money and control flow out to the users and the creators that access the network, as opposed to the companies that control it,” mentioned Dixon. “In the same way that steel was a better way to build bridges and buildings than wood was in the Industrial Revolution, blockchains are a building material.”

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