From the time I first started writing about XRP and Ripple, one of my to-do items was to consolidate the main news stories into a timeline of sorts, to form a well-rounded history.
I’ve found different resources on this topic, and while some provide great line-by-line descriptions of events during some of the time, none of them captured the way my own mental map worked. So I created my own company-and-crypto biography, merging what I know and experienced during that time with some of the official news coverage that took place. This blog is part one of that effort, and I’ll be working on the subsequent chapters to complete my task over the next couple weeks.
Before There was Ripple…
The original concept behind Ripple started with Ryan Fugger.
Fading into history is his creation of a credit network called Ripplepay. It was a site that enabled individuals to extend credit lines to friends and family. It also supported traditional online payments as well as payment of online currency. The original credit network in its separate incarnation is still around, and it’s open source. If you’re interested in learning more about it, I stumbled upon a web-page with a potpourri of resources: http://ripple.ryanfugger.com/Main/Implementations.html
The original Ripplepay site is still up and running, with a reference that seems contemporary only through the lens of 2013: 1
“The next version of the Ripple service is being developed at Ripple.com. It uses the principles of Ripplepay.com to create financial services that provide secure payment options to members of an online community via a global computer network through the use of traditional currency and virtual currency.”
Ripplepay seems very idealistic and noble – the idea of a community that shares credit with one another; it reminds me of a utopian tool for finance in a community.
In the fictional universe of Star Trek, characters were motivated by their work – not because they were motivated by profit. They wanted to contribute to the greater good of society.
An essay on the Ripplepay website describes the original concept, and how it extends credit to friends and neighbors: https://classic.ripplepay.com/essay/ The concept was created in 2004, and then in 2005 the RipplePay website was launched.
Who knows? Perhaps humanity is just slow to catch on; we do know that Ripplepay is used, and according to the site, there have actually been over seven thousand payments processed. While not a significant level of commerce, it definitely proves the concept.
The Early Years
Not much is mentioned about how the team of Arthur Britto, Jed McCaleb, and David Schwartz came together in the spring of 2011. For more than a year, it was this small team that worked on the development of the XRP Ledger. It was during this time that the team sought to innovate away from Bitcoin’s proof-of-work model and create something that was the opposite – a system that relied on consensus among members of the network rather than competitive mining. This would eliminate the danger of a “51%” attack, along with the concept of mining.
In August of 2012, they were joined by Chris Larsen, who had previously participated in and led projects for E-Loan and Prosper, two other fintech disruptors. 3
It was after Chris Larsen joined the team that McCaleb and Larsen approached Ryan Fugger about joining their digital currency with his credit network. Fugger agreed to support the new effort, and the team founded a new company known as OpenCoin.
The team put the finishing touches on their combined digital asset & credit network, and then sought to debut it to the crypto market along with the banking and fintech industry. The hard work of marketing and promoting their creation would now be the next step, and this was a challenging task.
Before ICOs were Invented
The early years of Ripple and XRP happened before the concept of an “initial coin offering” or “ICO.” Because of this, traditional modes of financing were pursued, including investment rounds where venture capitalists poured money into their project.
The funding for Ripple’s early operations translated into the percentages of ownership of the new company, much of which is still kept private. (Ripple continues to operate as a private company in the United States) When looking at these early funding rounds, even though we don’t know for sure how each of these ended in terms of company ownership, we can surmise that the earlier the investor, the greater the potential share, generally; however, the significant amount of money infused in later rounds might have resulted in a material share of the company ownership as well; only company insiders really know for sure.
Here’s what we do know – the funding rounds proceeded in the following order: 4
While the names above are impressive, keep in mind that these early investors only put up nine million dollars.
That’s right – only $ 9 million sustained Ripple… for three years. This team was on a shoestring budget when compared to most other Silicon Valley startups and initial coin offerings. Typically, an ICO will pick up close to one hundred million in funding for new ventures. But in the pre-ICO days, fintech funding was much more limited: It typically involved established Silicon Valley players investing their own capital in other startups.
Founders’ Shares of Ripple
Much has been made of Ripple’s founders owning XRP, but what is sometimes overlooked is the fact that they also hold significant percentages of Ripple’s ownership. Chris Larsen, for example, owns 17% of Ripple itself, and stands to make money from the value of the company, as well as his holdings of XRP. 5 It’s unknown how much the other Ripple founders own.
While nine million dollars may seem like a lot of money to any ordinary person, it’s not enough to propel a Silicon valley startup for very long. The team knew that the network and the company needed to have the resources and flexibility to promote adoption of its native currency, XRP.
To assist efforts, the founders of Ripple and XRP decided to donate most of their digital currency to the company, saving a portion for themselves in the process. The initial distribution of XRP was something like this:
- Company (OpenCoin): 80 billion
- Jed McCaleb: 9 billion 6
- Chris Larsen: 7 billion 7
- Other Founders: 4 billion 8
The above distribution was the necessary starting point for doing business – and they had to start somewhere. Looking backwards, there is no shortage of people that would make suggestions on how to handle the distribution of XRP differently, but there was really no precedent for them to follow – they were navigating through uncharted waters.
The team knew they had to do a lot with very little, so they proceeded to get the word out about XRP and the XRP Ledger the best way they could – by using XRP itself as a mechanism for publicity and adoption; what Ripple lacked in its initial funding, it made up for in the amount of XRP available for use.
On February 20th, 2013, OpenCoin started its Bitcointalk promotion, which went on for multiple months; the rules were straight-forward. If you were a member of Bitcointalk before February 19th, you were eligible to receive 1,000 XRP. And many members of Bitcointalk signed up to receive their free XRP; the list went on for hundreds of pages and lasted through the summer of 2013. 9
The result served to generate a tremendous amount of interest and buzz for both OpenCoin and XRP, the digital asset that was being air dropped to forum participants.
Early Bitcoin Investors Push Back
One wealthy Bitcoin investor was so concerned that XRP would take over cryptocurrency, that he offered a bribe to posters on Bitcointalk to post lies about Ripple and XRP. At the time, the terms of the bribe were “5 bitcoins to post specific language that Ripple is a scam.” The current value of that bribe is approximately $35,000 at today’s Bitcoin prices. Even at the time, using Bitcoin’s historical valuation, it was a big enough incentive for some posters to take the money and post the message. 10
Looking back on it, I wonder how many posters are now ashamed of their participation in the bribe to defame XRP and Ripple. Perhaps they rationalized their behavior in some way to themselves, but it’s become fairly obvious that the wild claims made in 2013 have now been proven incorrect – time and history have a way of setting things straight in a way that immediate responses sometimes fail to accomplish.
It was an ugly chapter for crypto generally, and a dark chapter in the history of XRP and Ripple. Crypto is still trying to right itself and emerge from this ‘win-lose’ type of mentality.
OpenCoin Changes to Ripple Labs
The Money 2020 Expo of 2013 provided opportune timing for OpenCoin to announce that they were officially changing the name of the company from OpenCoin to Ripple Labs. 11 The move solidified the branding of the company directly behind the industry nickname that had been given to the cryptocurrency up to that point, and emphasized the grounding in hard mathematics and cryptography science that the network was based on.
It wouldn’t be the last time for re-branding. With all of these promotional and marketing moves in 2013, along with a consistent public-facing message, the company founders were also starting to be known for something else: Hard work, determination, and a certain “stick-to-it-ive-ness” that would form the basis for Ripple’s company culture.
World Community Grid
The first XRP promotion and airdrop was successful in promoting XRP. 12 However, Ripple Labs needed something more to keep the momentum going. In late November of 2013, Ripple Labs released a promotion that worked to collaborate with Georgia Tech’s Computing for Good (C4G) initiative. Computing for Good put up a registration page that would link up volunteers’ XRP wallets with how much time that they ended up donating for the World Community Grid (WCG). 13 14
The World Community Grid (WCG) is software that users could run on their computers that would join with other computers throughout the world to leverage the power of decentralized processing. Participants who donated their computer’s CPU cycles could pick a variety of worthy causes to support.
Once users registered for the promotion, they would receive a reward of XRP for their participation. The promotion lasted months, and it helped to increase the World Community Grid’s processing power and speed.
Although the program eventually ended, it was a win-win combination for XRP investors, Ripple Labs, and the worthy causes supported by Computing for Good and the World Community Grid.
Ripple’s History – from Founders’ Perspectives
We don’t have insight into all aspects of Ripple’s history, and that’s understandable. They are a private company, and as such, are under no obligation to report much of anything to the public. But because of the high profile nature of crypto, along with many XRP fans’ interest in the trivia behind Ripple and XRP, they’ve seen fit to release some benign stories about the company origins.
I’ve watched all of these videos – and they certainly have some entertaining points hidden in the various interviews. Here is a link to a video that features Chris Larsen’s take on the early years:
The Story Continues
The popular saying – and one which I believe in – is to “DYOR in crypto.” DYOR stands for Do Your Own Research. It’s a maxim that reminds crypto investors that good, unbiased information about digital assets and ICOs is hard to find; it’s best to catalogue your own discoveries, and methodically compare choices before making investment decisions.
Part of this research should always be looking at the history of a coin or ICO, and learning as much as you can about a company’s origins & its founding members; a lot can be revealed by understanding the early days of how a company evolved. Ripple is no different, and despite the fact that it’s 2018, crypto investors will benefit from following the timeline of Ripple and XRP from its origins until now.
I truly believe that when investors look deep at the origins of Ripple and XRP, and compare to other choices, they start to understand the key differentiators between the choices. While some of these differentiators are obvious, such as XRP’s incredible performance metrics versus competing digital assets, other factors may be more subtle, such as the high quality of the team that’s been assembled at Ripple, along with the consistent leadership that we’ve seen. It’s my hope that by spending some time looking at Ripple and XRP’s history, readers will be able to gain a more well-rounded and accurate understanding of what Team Ripple hopes to achieve.