Boston’s Circle Internet Financial has taken another step in its quest to bring bitcoin into the mainstream, announcing today that a new wave of consumers will be invited to open Circle accounts. The account is free and aims to enable easier conversion, sending, and receiving of the digital currency.
Circle is seeking to take away the impediments that the average consumer has in getting started with bitcoin. To date, using bitcoin has involved difficult-to-use software and has been geared toward people who are speculatively trading the currency, founder Jeremy Allaire said. “The predominant use has been betting on its future value,” he said.
Circle, however, is “betting the digital currency will become a popular global means to store and transmit value. What we’re focused on is the actual utility value of bitcoin,” Allaire said. “For us, the mainstream consumer is the target.”
Allaire is among those who argue bitcoin offers greater protection against fraud and is faster and cheaper to use than other forms of payment. For instance, it does not have the transaction fees typical of credit and debit cards.
How Circle works: Consumers must start by signing up to get an invitation to create an account. Once that invitation arrives, consumers set up their account online and automatically get the equivalent of $10 in bitcoin from Circle.
The consumer can then make a deposit from their debit card, which is instantly converted into bitcoin. Users can also import bitcoin from another service. Users receive free insurance from Circle on their bitcoin.
For making bitcoin payments, consumers just enter the email address of the person who will receive the payment, Allaire said. The payee must link their email identity to Circle, as well.
Circle will send out waves of invitations over the coming weeks and months, and “eventually will make it available for anyone in the world,” Allaire said. He declined to say the number of initial invites being sent out.
Circle, which launched less than a year ago and has raised $26 million in funding so far, is not fretting about generating revenue to start, Allaire said. “We have a lot of ideas for products and services to offer in addition that would generate revenue for us,” he said. “Right now the key focus is we’re really trying to make this easy for users.”
Investors include Breyer Capital, Accel Partners, and General Catalyst Partners. Circle employs 30.
The company debuted its accounts to a limited number of users in March in tandem with announcing $17 million in new funding.
Other startups such as Coinbase and Stripe are helping merchants to accept payments in the digital currency, and Circle works in tandem with those services to allow payments from consumers to participating merchants, Allaire said.
Allaire previously founded two successful companies, Allaire Corp. and Brightcove Inc., a provider of online video services.