The skyrocketing popularity of cryptocurrency over the past year has been heralded by many analysts and pundits as undeniable success of the growing decentralized movement. But the reality is that crossing the chasm from early adopters and speculators to mainstream usage has proved quite challenging for an industry that seeks to reinvent how people communicate, transact and share value.
Gem, a Los Angeles–based block-chain startup founded in 2013 in the early days of the decentralized movement, is launching a new cryptocurrency platform this summer that the company hopes will bridge that gap by recruiting millions of new mainstream users to join and drive the movement forward.
“We believe that every person is valuable. Everyone has something to contribute to their larger community,” said Micah Winkelspecht, founder and CEO of Gem. “In the new decentralized economy, we have an opportunity to reshape how that value is captured and exchanged, in a way that directly rewards the people who create that value, and not institutions. That’s what this movement is about.”
The company’s growing team of veteran blockchain and crypto-currency engineers is building on its experience of deploying blockchain and wallet technology for consumer-facing cryptocurrency startups and large companies alike — including giants such as Toyota, Capital One, Mercer and Philips. With its new product, though, the company is taking a more direct approach.
“Our goal is to empower individuals to take control of their money and return the economic benefits of their data back to them,” said Winkelspecht. “It’s about giving power back to individuals and giving them direct access to the new distributed economy.”
Decentralization brings inherent challenges that companies like Gem must address to make the new economy more accessible to everyone. These challenges include navigating the sheer number and complexity of tools and services, managing complex cryptographic keys, educating people about the risks and benefits, and designing products that target more than just the tech-savvy audience — in other words, making the whole interaction more human.
Winkelspecht agrees. He believes that users need an all-in-one cryptocurrency platform that gives them a complete view and control of all their digital assets, with a design-centric approach that will bring the token economy to the mainstream.
The Only App You’ll Ever Need in Crypto
Gem’s new people-centered platform is built on four pillars: providing a unified view of a person’s digital wealth, empowering people to control their own assets and identity, crafting an experience for people to discover new tokens and decentralized apps, and connecting people to the projects, companies and communities driving the movement forward.
While Gem’s vision is ambitious and forward-looking, the company recognizes that cryptocurrency investing is still driving the early adoption of the most avid users of blockchain technology today. That’s where Winkelspecht believes Gem can make the biggest immediate impact.
“We want to make it easier for people to be better informed about their choices in the space and really understand what they are investing in,” Winkelspecht said.
Gem will start by launching a comprehensive portfolio management solution that will use APIs to provide consumers with a single entry point for tracking all of their crypto investments and their net worth — “Like Mint for crypto,” Winkelspecht said. The portfolio will integrate with 22 cryptocurrency exchanges, and that’s just for starters.
Gem is also creating a universal token wallet that’s designed to make it easier for users to trade cryptocurrencies of their choosing without the complexity that is traditionally required when setting up a multi-token wallet, and without the security drawbacks of hosted wallets. Initially, the Gem wallet will support bitcoin, ether and any other ERC20 tokens. The company expects to rapidly add support for other tokens. Gem is also creating a discovery tool where consumers can explore, track and research more than 1,500 cryptocurrencies.
More Than Just Trading Tokens
Winkelspecht says that ultimately, cryptocurrency is not just about money and trading, it’s about participating in a whole token-based economy of products and services.
“Crypto investment is like trading oil. It can be traded as a speculative commodity, but eventually, that fuel will be consumed to power the economy,” said Winkelspecht. “Tokens are the fuel of the new distributed economy.”
As Gem expands its platform, consumers will be able to experience a broad range of new apps and services beyond wealth management. Ultimately, Winkelspecht believes Gem will be the primary user interface for people to access the new economy, like a new web browser for the decentralized internet.
Putting the User Front and Center
One of the toughest challenges to overcome in this space is the dichotomy between security and ease of use. Winkelspecht believes that it’s largely a false dichotomy.
“Users shouldn’t have to compromise between having a great user experience and taking control of their digital identity,” he said. “As an industry, we need to bridge the gap between the early adopters and their needs and the majority mainstream audience. We need to deliver a better user experience.”
Gem’s solution is to put the user front and center in designing the platform, using detailed surveys of both crypto investors and the crypto curious, an in-depth analysis of more than 100 wallets and portfolios, and consumer feedback to build the product.
Winkelspecht recognizes that the very nature of decentralized technologies requires end users to take more responsibility for their assets than they would with centralized services. But he believes that this burden can be minimized to make crypto investing easier for the average consumer without compromising security.
“There is always a trade-off that exists with decentralized technologies; there is a little extra work that the user needs to do to keep their own key,” Winkelspecht said. “But we try to minimize that work and educate the user through that process.”
Looking back over the past five years, Winkelspecht believes the new product will cement Gem’s role in the digital ecosystem as being the trusted interface between users and their access to this new
world. “It’s really just about giving power back to the individual,” said Winkelspecht. “I felt like the best way we could possibly do that was to go directly to the consumer and provide a great experience that would allow people to take control over their own money and their own identities in this new economy.”
Gem plans to release its new consumer-friendly platform this summer, beginning with a private beta of its portfolio manager in May. Sign up for early access at https://gem.co.