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Founder of China's first bitcoin exchange returns with crypto wallet

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Cryptocurrency entrepreneur Bobby Lee. Photo: Bobby Lee

The founder of China’s first bitcoin exchange has returned to the market with a new startup, Ballet, that builds bitcoin wallets.

Bobby Lee told Yahoo Finance UK that Ballet’s new credit card-sized wallets will “allow normal people, regular people access to cryptocurrency.”

Ballet’s first wallet, called REAL, has no electronic parts. It means the wallet, which stores electronic keys, can not be hacked. The wallet acts as a store for the private key that cryptocurrency owners must use to unlock their online wallets, a little like a key to a safe deposit box.

“It’s like cash,” Lee, a former Walmart executive, said. “Once you load it with bitcoin, litecoin, ethereum, this device has everything it needs to access the funds.

“It can be used as a gift to give someone or you can just store it in safe deposit box and hide it somewhere at home. This is completely offline, there’s no hacking risk.”

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Prior to Ballet, Lee founded and ran BTCC, China’s first cryptocurrency exchange. The startup grew rapidly but was forced to stop operating in China when Beijing banned crypto exchanges in 2017.

Lee sold BTCC for an undisclosed sum in early 2018. He said the business was sold for eight figures, adding it was “a good number we were all very happy with.”

“I spent most of last year giving speeches, travelling, taking some vacation, spending time with family — just enjoying life having made some money off of my last startup,” he said.

A mock-up of Ballet's REAL cryptocurrency wallet. Photo: Ballet

Lee said he was inspired to return to the crypto market after spotting a gap in the market.

“There are a lot of people who come to me and say: Bobby, will you help me store my bitcoin for me?”

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Ballet has raised around $5m in seed funding from Lee’s friends and family, as well as Silicon Valley venture capital fund Ribbit Capital. Ribbit was an early backer of Coinbase and other fintech businesses like Revolut.

Ballet, which is headquartered in Las Vegas, will beginning shipping REAL wallets to beta testers in the next few weeks before a wider roll-out in October. The products will sell for $35 but initially retail at a promotional price of $29.

The price of bitcoin peaked at $20,000 around the time Lee was selling BTCC. It has since crashed, taking the rest of the cryptocurrency market. Bitcoin has traded around the $10,000 mark since late July.

“People get dissuaded or get doom and gloom after the big rise to $20,000 in 2017 and then the crashing down,” Lee said.

“We are in one of many, many cycles to come. Any cycle will take us to higher and higher heights. I’m quite confident sitting on my bitcoin investment that in a very short amount of time we’ll exceed $20,000 and go to $50,000, $100,000, even $200,000.

He added: “When I say a short time, I don’t mean minutes or hours, I mean maybe months, if not a few years.”

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Oscar Williams-Grut covers banking, fintech, and finance for Yahoo Finance UK. Follow him on Twitter at @OscarWGrut.

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