Meet Bitmain’s Jihan Wu, a Most Important Man in Crypto
In recent years, and the last few months especially, it’s been getting harder for Jihan Wu to remain that background figure. Co-founder of Bitmain Technologies, a dominant mining player, Jihan Wu is a billionaire a few times over. Indeed, Bitmain is doing billions in revenue each year, and it’s only been around for half a decade. Mr. Wu is himself just a tender 32 years old. Chances are, he is going to be a force in the space for some time to come.
He’s openly admired by some, and downright hated by others. Whatever an enthusiast’s feeling towards Mr. Wu, they’ll all admit to him being an unavoidable fixture within the ecosystem. The China-based mogul and the company he founded with two others, including Micree Zhan, most notably helped to bring application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) to the nascent field of mining. It turned out to be a genius move for Mr. Wu, a former financial analyst.
ASICs have become the world standard in bitcoin mining, leaving graphics processing units (GPUs) in the dust at some 300 times faster. That speed becomes critical as the bitcoin inflation rate slows and coins become more difficult to mine. Bitmain has positioned itself to take full advantage. Once an afterthought in the community, mining has been brought to the forefront by the work of Bitmain, easily cryptocurrency’s most profitable company.
Software, Hardware, Clouds
Bitmain and Mr. Wu have branched out beyond just chips and software, developing their own mining pool, Antpool, along with BTC.com. Depending on the time period and outlet studying Antpool’s block mining prowess, nearly a quarter of all Bitcoin blocks mined have gone through Antpool (that number balloons to 40% when combined with BTC.com). Bitmain has also crafted hardware for mining in the form of the Antminer (estimates have Bitmain in control of something like 80% of all mining gear), and continues to invest in the growing sector of cloud mining with Hashnest.
At his discovery of Bitcoin, Mr. Wu, so enamored with the technology, became the first person to translate Satoshi Nakamoto’s white paper into Chinese. Being from China and in China, especially considering the country’s government and its battles with crypto, just about every conceivable conspiracy has been placed at the feet of Mr. Wu and Bitmain.
Competitors have accused him and the company of shady tactics, including 51% attacks on rival chains, collusion to better situate Bitmain where it is less competitive, and other assorted underhanded deeds (all of which Mr. Wu angrily denies). His most controversial efforts are forever linked to the fork of Bitcoin Core (BTC) a year ago this month. Rendering Bitcoin Cash (BCH), Mr. Wu hasn’t alleviated fears in this regard. He is a vocal and very enthusiastic supporter of BCH.
The growth rate of Bitmain under Mr. Wu’s leadership seems poised to move from relative obscurity in the formal financial sector with a record-shattering initial public offering (IPO). Estimates, and it’s all very preliminary, value the company at closing-in on ten billion dollars. This would place it ready to take on public rivals such as Nvidia and Mediatek should the IPO come to fruition.
Asked by Fortune in a recent interview about the future, Mr. Wu elaborated, “My priority is, first, that we will continue to invest a lot of resources into the research and R&D of mining rigs to make sure we maintain an advantage over other competitors, like Avalon. We will also invest into our vision about the future of a crypto market. We think that it will start to support the real world economy, and to build more than this financial market on the Internet. Bitmain will also start to deploy lots of artificial intelligence products into the market—a totally new business selling hardware to do artificial intelligence accelerations,” he stressed.
To reach IPO levels in the legacy financial world would mean coming out of the shadows, and opening up books and practices, not to mention dealing with regulators. Mining has been under a great deal of scrutiny from the likes of environmentalists to local municipal utility concerns, and regulators are chomping at the bit to intervene in players such as Bitmain. On this topic, Mr. Wu explained of regulators, “Our business is semiconductor design. Circle [a U.S. cryptocurrency startup privately valued at $3 billion after Bitmain led its most recent financing round] has been much more experienced with regulators. That’s why Bitmain is interested in Circle as well. We see in the future that negotiating and working with regulators is quite important. We need to push those heavy regulations back a little bit. But we need to work with them, not just try to get around it.”