Bitcoin Group CEO eyes billion-dollar opportunity with upcoming ASX debut

Australia's Bitcoin Group is less than a month away from debuting on the ASX as the bitcoin mining firm hopes to bring validity to the cryptocurrency and earn its share of what the CEO called a billion dollar opportunity.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology is a billion dollar opportunity, rather than a million dollar opportunity, according to Bitcoin Group CEO Sam Lee.

The Melbourne-based bitcoin mining firm is days away from listing on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), with Lee believing the cryptocurrency has a very promising and profitable future.

According to Lee, Bitcoin Group powers over 6,000 machines across seven locations that perform calculations on the blockchain. Lee said this is done by confirming the validity of bitcoin transactions that people make on the network.

"This process is called mining, and for our contribution, we are rewarded bitcoins by the network which can be exchanged into any major currency," he said.

"The company operates current generation machines in locations with reasonable electricity prices combined with the number of bitcoins mined being mathematically predictable means we have turned a profit in 2015, which was our first year of operation, and I believe we can continue to operate as a going concern."

Lee believes that in order for something to have long term value, it must solve a real world problem. He said that bitcoin does just that by making financial transactions at a fraction of the cost of traditional payment systems -- which he said is similar to how the internet made accessing information virtually free for everyone.

"Every day more stores are adopting bitcoin as a preferred payment method over systems such as Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal, as merchants don't need to pay any transaction fees to receive bitcoin," Lee said.

"Bitcoin is like digital cash, so once the merchant has received the bitcoins, they can spend them within a matter of minutes and unlike bank transactions, credit cards, and systems like PayPal, there is zero risk to merchants from fraud or charge-backs when using bitcoins."

Lee said he hopes the company's upcoming initial public offering (IPO) will give the cryptocurrency validation.

"It's about giving ourselves and the industry accountability and legitimacy; people often doubt whether our industry is 'real' as bitcoin has been declared dead many times over," he said. "Unlike private companies, however, listed companies have a higher level of compliance; audited numbers will assist us in educating people interested in our industry with facts, not fiction.

"Operators of a private company can stretch the truth, but for a listed company, you can't."

Almost a year ago, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) warned Bitcoin Group away from making public statements concerning its proposed IPO until after it lodged a prospectus.

ASIC placed a stop order on Bitcoin Group in February, prohibiting the company from publishing any statements concerning its intention to list publicly in Australia. This came after the company posted information about its proposed IPO on Chinese social media platform WeChat.

Bitcoin Group released a statement at the end of 2014 which said the company planned to list in the upcoming weeks, saying at the time it hoped to become the world's first publicly floated bitcoin trading company.

Digital X, formerly DigitalBTC and Digital CC, was previously also involved in bitcoin mining. The ASX-listed company shifted its business model in October, ditching the cryptocurrency to focus on software development.

Regardless of Digital X's business shift, Bitcoin Group will still be the country's first public bitcoin trading company floated on the ASX, as Digital CC initially found itself listed following a reverse takeover of investment firm Macro Energy in June 2014.

Despite Australia's only other bitcoin-concerned business changing direction, Lee remains positive that Bitcoin Group will succeed on the ASX.

"We've already proven our business model by returning a profit in financial year 2015," he said. "Our expertise and access to the right industry contacts nets us as a highly efficient operation -- I personally envisage 2016 to be no different."

Bitcoin Group's IPO was initially scheduled for July last year, with ASIC interrupting the listing, requiring the company to issue a replacement prospectus. Under that prospectus, the offer was to close on October 30, 2015. A day later, Bitcoin Group issued a supplementary prospectus that identified a cross-reference error, allowed Bitcoin Group to correct statements made in the printed press and electronic media, allowed the company to explain how it would deal with any investment in the IPO coordinated by Bnktothefuture Ltd, and to give notice of a potential related party investor in the IPO.

The company then issued a second supplementary prospectus on November 20 to extend the offer closing date, in which time Bitcoin Group said it would sufficiently address issues raised by ASIC.

According to Bitcoin Group, ASIC had expressed the view that investors would benefit from the incorporation of an Independent Expert Report to provide an opinion in relation to the variables underpinning the 'Bitcoin Mining expression'.

They did just that, and a third supplementary prospectus was then issued by the company on December 4. The close date for the IPO is now January 25, with the first day of trading scheduled for February 2, 2016.

Despite the journey not running typically smooth, Lee said that an IPO was a far better option than entering the ASX via a reverse takeover.

"There are a lot of skeletons in the closet when it comes to a backdoor listing -- you don't really know what kind of legacy issues or debts or political plays between people from a shell company," he said.

"Historically, backdoor listings have underperformed the market whilst IPOs have overperformed the market."

Lee -- who founded the company along with Allan Guo, who is the CFO and the company's chief strategy officer, and Ryan Xu -- said that listing was not really the trio's strength.

"Allan was from the banking and real estate sector, and Ryan was a nuclear power plant engineer. Combined with my IT Project Management background, we have very limited experience in capital markets," he said. "In terms of listing a company, it's really not our forte -- better to get a clean slate and build the IPO from the ground up than to consider reverse listing.

"An IPO gives you more control, and escrow provisions prevent the executive team and early stage investors from selling their shares which means that there is a limited amount of shares that can be sold on first day of trade."

As the offer is not closed as yet, Lee said he cannot comment on the progress of it. He did however say that Bitcoin Group has the necessary spread and amount in order to satisfy listing requirements.

"I'm not concerned with the final amount raised as having proven our business model to be profitable ensures we have the runway necessary to grow the company at a sustainable pace," he said.

"Bitcoin Group represents an exciting opportunity for investors who want to be exposed to this technological paradigm shift, as a profitable company with no mainstream benchmark; it is hard for the market to decide on a valuation."

Lee expects Bitcoin Group investors will be those that believe in the long term value of bitcoin and blockchain technology and said that his company intends to be supportive of other bitcoin companies that enter the ASX.

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