Matt Cohler, a general partner with the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Benchmark, in 2014 described to Vanity Fair his view of the smartphone as a “remote control for real life.”
Cohler’s analogy captures a key feature of so many digital innovations, from the earliest remote controls to today’s smartphones: being able to take lots of different actions using a single interface.
Aggregating information from various sources and presenting it in an actionable format is likewise the idea behind Coinigy’s software. The Milwaukee-based startup is developing tools for trading on digital currency exchanges. These exchanges are services that allow users to swap U.S. dollars—or other fiat currencies—for the equivalent amount in a digital currency, such as Bitcoin. (We’ll get into what Bitcoin is, and why someone might want to use it, momentarily.)
Derek Urben, Coinigy’s head of business development, says the startup currently supports 60-plus exchanges across the globe, and has more than 29,000 active users. Nearly 18,000 users signed up to use Coinigy in May, a record month, according to the company.
Urben says there are organizations besides Coinigy that also aggregate data feeds from digital currency exchanges. One of them is Cryptowatch. (Digital currencies are sometimes called “cryptocurrencies.”) However, Urben says that Coinigy supports more exchanges and handles a higher trading volume than competing services.
Robert Borden and William Kehl co-founded Coinigy in 2014, five years after the open-source software code for the virtual currency Bitcoin was released.
Bitcoin differs from traditional currencies in several ways. Transactions involve only two parties, with no bank or intermediary standing in between. When Bitcoins are created or used in transactions, that information is time-stamped and recorded in a public ledger. These ledgers, called blockchains, are designed to allow users to keep certain transaction data private by encrypting them. Still, there is some data that cannot be made private, which allows the transactions to be authenticated afterward.
Blockchain offers significant promise. We explored some potential applications of the technology discussed by a panel of experts earlier this year.
Urben says that Bitcoin could be useful in developing nations, where many people do not have bank accounts or governments limit access. According to a world map showing where—and how widely—Coinigy is used, the service appears to be most popular in North America and Europe. However, there are also users in numerous countries in Africa and South America.
The price of Bitcoin in U.S. dollars has ebbed and flowed over the past several years. Recently, there has been a major upswing, with the price more than doubling since January. Meanwhile, the price of another digital currency, Ether, has increased about 4,500 percent this year. The value of all outstanding Ether currency is approaching the combined value of all Bitcoins, as the New York Times reported earlier this week. Coinigy works with exchanges that deal in both currencies, Urben says.
Coinigy’s users range from seasoned finance professionals to young tech workers to retired people who want to spend some of their time and money exploring new currencies, he says.
A new Coinigy user must complete a few steps to get started with the company’s trading tools. First, she needs to go to the website of a supported exchange and purchase virtual currency there. Then, the user can link her exchange account to Coinigy with an application programming interface, and indicate that she would like to be able to control her exchange account from Coinigy.
The startup’s Web-based software can currently be used on computers and Android devices. Coinigy plans to introduce a mobile app for iOS devices later this year, Urben says.
The software features charting tools designed to help users track the prices that Bitcoin, Ether, and other digital currencies are trading for on the dozens of exchanges Coinigy supports. It has also built several apps on top of the core software platform. One of them, ArbMatrix—a reference to the term arbitrage—is a heat map of price differences between exchanges.
“Arbitrage is the idea that markets aren’t 100 percent efficient and there’s going to be price discrepancies,” Urben says. “You buy on the lower [priced] exchange, transferring that fund to a higher [priced] exchange and selling it. If you have accounts in both [exchanges], you can take advantage. This is kind of the reason Coinigy was built in the first place.”
It’s also possible to create rules telling Coinigy to buy or sell a virtual currency if its price rises above or drops below a certain amount.
Users cannot store digital currency on Coinigy. Instead, their funds are either stored on exchanges or in a personal electronic wallet that’s separate from the exchanges.
Coinigy makes money by charging users a annual subscription fee of $185 to use the software, Urben says. The startup’s other major revenue stream involves selling historical Bitcoin data from exchanges, mostly to institutional traders. This information can be useful if someone has developed an algorithm and wants to test it using historical data, he says.
“You’re back-testing,” Urben says. “What would’ve happened, and was that more profitable than just buying [a digital currency] and holding it? Because that’s how you have to justify” using the new algorithm.
Depending on the quantity of information desired, historical data sets can cost anywhere from a few cents to thousands of dollars.
Urben declined to share specific revenue figures, but says Conigy is currently profitable on a month-to-month basis.
The company has seven “core team members,” some of whom work in places as far-flung as France and the Czech Republic, he says. Coinigy plans to add three more software developers, and for now is more focused on continuing to build its software tools than sales and marketing efforts.
“Due to the kind of business [we have], we don’t really need more” business development staff, Urben says. “That stuff is in the future. We can go after it once the market expands even more. Right now, we need to get more product out the door.”