Sitting down with Jihan Wu, one gets the sense that the crypto-tycoon might be more at home in a college AV club than in the ranks of the world’s youngest, richest businesspeople.

The 32-year-old cofounder and co-CEO of Bitmain, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency mining firm, displays a strikingly reserved and gawky demeanor. At the start of an interview in Manhattan in mid-May, when posed with the opening question “What’s up?”, Wu merely remains silent. After a second prodding, he replies, “Um.”

Several seconds later, the conversation starts. Despite Beijing-based Bitmain being only five years old, the privately-held company brought in $2.5 billion in revenue last year, Wu says, largely through sales of specialized, cryptocurrency-mining, computer chip hardware. It also takes a cut of the funds generated via its market-dominating cryptocurrency mining pools, and AntPool. Bitmain’s private market valuation has now ballooned to $12 billion, he says (although Bloomberg estimates it’s closer to $9 billion, with Wu and his cofounder and co-CEO, Micree Zhan, jointly owning about 60% of the business).

Wu is on a mission not only to maintain Bitmain’s throne, but to pad it. He has designs on diversifying the firm’s dominance with an entrée into the booming field of AI; he says the company plans to release an AI chip product as early as later this year.

The cryptocurrency billionaire also addressed some of the controversy and conspiracy theories that have swirled around Bitmain. Below is a partial excerpt of Fortune’s interview lightly edited for brevity and clarity. (Read the rest of the interview here.)

Fortune Ledger: Why did decide to put all of your money into Bitcoin when you heard about it in 2011? What made you take that leap?

Jihan Wu: I very quickly grabbed the idea, apprehended it, and thought it would work. Money is not a binary thing—money, or not. It’s more like a scale from zero to one. Something is more like money than other things. That’s the first thing we need to know.

Do you ever mine cryptocurrency internally before you release a new miner onto the market?

No, we don’t do that. As in, sell a second-handed mining rig? If we sell a second-handed mining rig, we would be transparent that this is second-handed. We don’t do mining first and then make the mining rigs old and then sell them as if they’re new. If it was second-handed, we would tell the customer it’s second-handed.

It’s against our principles inside our company to do such things. This is absolutely bad rumors about us. From day one, we are transparent. We have ways to sell used rigs on the market. We don’t have to pretend that some mining rigs are unused ones.

Not even used—I mean, would you ever, before you release a new miner, have a few months where you have an effective monopoly on that hardware, because it hasn’t been released publicly yet?

No, it never happened. We have a small-scale test. We don’t do that. That is not our strategy.

I ask because there have been reports and rumors.

I read those stories as well. There’s some kind of group of people that controlled the majority of the hash rate of Monero for a long time. I would like to say that to develop such a kind of ASIC [specialized computer chip] is not a kind of secret skill that only Bitmain has. Lots of people can do that. For large companies like Bitmain, and especially myself, I do not even have the time, attention or resources to have such a kind of plan to do this. If we develop hardware, we just release and sell it on the market. Right after we have sample machines working, we start sales to market. We don’t have such kinds of advantages.

Do you speak much with regulators?

Not that much. Just sometimes, in conferences, we meet with some of them. Our business is semiconductor design. Circle [a U.S. cryptocurrency startup privately valued at $3 billion after Bitmain led it’s 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.

What do you think the Chinese regulatory regime is going to look like in a few years? What do you predict to happen?

I’d rather not give any comment on the regulatory policies of the Chinese. It’s too sensitive.

(Continued here.)


So there you have it. More news below.

Robert Hackett


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