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Hedge fund billionaire backs bitcoin payment startup

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
A Bitcoin (virtual currency) paper wallet with QR codes and coins are seen in an illustration picture taken at La Maison du Bitcoin in Paris July 11, 2014. French police dismantled an illegal Bitcoin exchange and seized 388 virtual currency units worth some 200,000 euros ($272,800) in the first such operation in Europe a public prosecutor said on Monday.   REUTERS/Benoit Tessier (FRANCE - Tags: BUSINESS)
A Bitcoin paper wallet with QR codes and coins are seen in an illustration picture. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Alan Howard, the billionaire cofounder of hedge fund Brevan Howard, has backed a startup building a Venmo-like app for cryptocurrencies.

Bottlepay said on Tuesday it had raised £11m ($15.5m) in seed funding from backers including Howard. The London-based startup said money also came from "present and former Goldman Sachs partners" but declined to name them. Bottlepay, which was founded in 2019, was valued at £51m in the deal.

The funding round comes amid increased interest in bitcoin (BTC-USD) from institutional investors and large corporates. PayPal (PYPL) said last year it would allow customers to handle the token through its platform and Mastercard (MA) followed suite earlier this month. BNY Mellon, America's oldest bank, said it too would handle bitcoin on behalf of clients.

READ MORE: Bitcoin market value reaches $1trn as price hits fresh highs

Square (SQ) invested $50m into the cryptocurrency last October and wealth manager Ruffer put some of its £21bn ($29bn) in assets into bitcoin last November. Tesla (TSLA) announced at the start of the month that it had invested $1.5bn into the cryptocurrency.

Recent investor attention towards bitcoin has led to a surge in its price. The cryptocurrency has risen over 400% since last October and recently reached an all-time high above $56,000 per coin.

Howard is the cofounder of Brevan Howard Asset Management, one of Europe's biggest and best known hedge funds. Founded in 2002, the firm manages around $13bn on behalf of clients. Its success has turned its cofounder into a billionaire, with an estimated fortune of $1.7bn according to Forbes.

Compared to others in high finance, Howard was early to cotton on to the investment potential of cryptocurrency. He spearheaded the launch of cryptocurrency investment company Elwood Asset Management in 2019 and is a backer of bitcoin investment business One River Digital.

Bottlepay's spokesperson said Howard was unavailable to comment on the deal.

Bottlepay's app lets users send bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies socially, like Venmo does with traditional fiat currency. Photo: Bottlepay
Bottlepay's app lets users send bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies socially, like Venmo does with traditional fiat currency. Photo: Bottlepay

Bottlepay is a mobile wallet built on the bitcoin protocol that lets people buy, spend, and send money quickly and easily. Bottlepay links into social networks like Reddit and Twitter, allowing people to send money to users on these platforms. The app specialises in bitcoin micropayments but also lets users handle dollars, pounds and euros.

"The payments ecosystem is undergoing monumental changes as we move towards a cashless society," chief executive Mark Webster said in a statement. "Today’s consumer wants to be able to transact freely and easily, without the restrictions of a traditional bank.

"We believe that with this cash injection, we can build a leading company in this rapidly growing space which will allow people to send, spend and receive payments in a way that works best for them.”

Bottlepay is part of the UK Financial Conduct Authority's Innovation Hub. The "beta" version of its app has signed up over 20,000 users.

Watch: What are the risks of investing in cryptocurrency?