Co-founded by Y-Combinator former president Sam Altman and physicist Alex Blania, the new crypto company Worldcoin has a bold ambition – to put its currency into the hands of every human on Earth.
Despite the increasing buzz with Bitcoin hitting all time highs and the NFT-mania populating every corner of the sports and entertainment industry, only 3% of the world’s population hold any cryptocurrency. According to Global Findex, over 31% of the global population is unbanked. This means billions of people who don’t have access to traditional financial services, have also never used a cryptocurrency network for simple transactions such as payment of goods and services.
The lack of adoption can be attributed to high technological barriers to entry for joining the ecosystem. Wallets are confusing to understand and crypto protocols are complex to communicate. New currencies are usually marketed through airdrops, where users with wallets who have participated in related projects are gifted a small amount of the new currency. By their nature, airdrops exclude those that are not part of this privileged group and fail to give access to the freedoms and power that cryptocurrency can provide to the people who need it most.
In an effort to put cryptocurrency in the hands of more users, Worldcoin has launched a plan to distribute their cryptocurrency to all, with an emphasis on new users in developing markets.
In its tokenomics design, each future user has been pre-allocated their share of the coin’s supply. Employing a unique distribution strategy, the company has built an Orb, a hardware biometric device that uses unique identification techniques to identify users, help people set up their wallets and receive their allocation of the digital currency. The Worldcoin team plans to identify operators around the globe to operate the device and reward successful signups. These operators organize in town squares, transit hubs, and public rights of way to enroll people and deposit the coin into a wallet application on their phone.
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Worldcoin currently values itself at a ‘unicorn’ valuation of $1 billion USD. The company has raised $25 million from top Silicon Valley technology and crypto investors over the last few months, including Andreessen Horowitz, Coinbase Ventures, Blockchange, Fifty Years, Day One Ventures, CoinFund, 1confirmation, and angels including Reid Hoffman (Founder of LinkedIn), Sam Bankman-Fried (founder of FTX), as well as the founders of Solana and Polkadot.
The project is led by Alex Blania, formerly a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light and Caltech. Blania joined Sam Altman who is the founder and CEO of OpenAI and previously was President at Y-Combinator, which has invested in multiple unicorns such as Coinbase, Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, and DoorDash.
“Worldcoin is solving one of the internet’s fundamental problems at scale – ‘proof of personhood.’ The Orb allows Worldcoin to build a very powerful application—potentially the most widely distributed cryptocurrency network in the world. Once it reaches critical mass, other projects and entrepreneurs will be able to use this as a platform to build the future of the internet as we know it. We are thrilled to partner with Alex, Sam, and the Worldcoin team on this important journey,” says Chris Dixon, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz.
The team has already signed up more than 100,000 people globally for the digital currency with this method under ‘stealth’ conditions, with the aim of enrolling a billion people in their first two years of public launch by increasing the number of devices in the wild and broadening the number of countries they serve. During this stealth testing period, each operator has been able to enroll an average of 700 people per Orb per week, which at scale will lead to over 1 billion people enrolled in the first two years.
“The more participants a network like this has, the more powerful it becomes for its users. Giving billions of people access to one commonly owned network will lead to a major acceleration of the whole crypto space. Entrepreneurs all over the world will start building cryptocurrency applications that are barely imaginable today,” says Worldcoin Co-founder and CEO Alex Blania.
It seems the most unique part of the project is the physical device. The Orb captures an image of the person’s eyes to ensure that they are a new and unique user. The company, however, iterates that privacy is a priority and that images of eyes are not stored or uploaded off-device, but rather are locally converted to an identifier code on-device using a one-way algorithm. Once users are on-boarded onto the network through the Orb, they participate in the same anonymous way with wallet addresses as they would on other decentralized crypto networks. Approaching personhood verification from this angle ensures scalability of the network so that lookups and inserts are able to happen with billions of enrolled users, as users don’t need to provide any other personal information in order to access their Worldcoin.
The team has built Worldcoin as an ERC-20 token on the Ethereum network, in an effort to maximize the ability for third-party developers to build Worldcoin into their products. The company plans to release a collection of open-source SDKs that will enable the network to be extended and implemented into other products and systems. The executives hope that developers and companies will be able to contribute to the increased economic potential of billions of people and connect the world’s economies directly in a more inclusive crypto platform.
“We see people waiting multiple hours to receive their Worldcoin and entrepreneurs building whole businesses around the Orb. This excitement and the resulting metrics make us optimistic that Worldcoin can soon connect the first billion users in one global network,” says Sam Altman, Co-Founder of Worldcoin and Former President of Y-Combinator.
The goal of creating a global cryptocurrency is an ambitious one that is being undertaken by several other parties. Central banks have begun launching central bank digital currencies (CBDC’s), though critics believe these only increase the power that central banks have, and carry the inflationary risks of fiat into the digital future. Additionally, other stablecoins from pegged currencies, such as USDT and USDC, to algorithmic currencies such as FLOAT and OHM, are encouraging global use and adoption. Worldcoin hopes to build on these concepts with its ‘proof of personhood’ and become a truly decentralized, efficient, accessible, and independent digital currency, opening up the digital economy to the entire global population.