Jeremy Allaire

10 Questions: Jeremy Allaire, founder and CEO, Circle

April 22, 2014: 8:01 AM ET

On having vision, Bitcoin's challenges, and "following your bliss."

140422074114-jeremy-allaire-ceo-circle-620xa

FORTUNE -- Jeremy Allaire was introduced to the Internet in 1990 when he was a college student in Minnesota. Though the web was not yet a fixture of college dorm life, Allaire's roommate -- who worked in IT -- found a way to get a connection. Allaire was hooked, and now sees his early exposure to the Internet as a transformative experience.

Upon graduation, Allaire started working with the Internet and declared himself a consultant. He had a vision for using the web not just for distributing content but for interaction and transactions. His early career revolved around the Internet-based companies Macromedia and Brightcove. When the financial crisis hit, Allaire became interested in figuring out how to use the Internet to improve the financial system. When he discovered Bitcoin, he saw the opportunity to help companies make global transactions and build their businesses.

Allaire's latest company, Circle, will launch later this year. The company aims to make Bitcoin simpler, safer, and easier to use. In light of recent controversy around the virtual currency -- particularly around companies that have failed and lost clients' money -- Allaire is taking his time to make sure Circle will be legitimate and regulated. Allaire, 42, holds bachelor's degrees in political science and philosophy from Macalester College.

He spoke with Fortune.

1. Which area of technology excites you most?

Very clearly, digital currency. I'm deep, deep down the rabbit hole and not coming out anytime soon. I was around during the birth of the web, and I remember vividly when I first downloaded a web browser that allowed you to format text and put a graphic in it and load it, and I saw that and said, "This is going to change the world." I've had the exact same experience with digital currency, especially with Bitcoin. We're in the very early stages of building out a radical technology that has the potential to change the world in as significant a manner as the web.

2. What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?

There are a lot of layers to it. For me, at least, what I see is that the really critical ingredient is having a deep passion and vision and fundamental belief about an opportunity. Being able to see out a number of years and have a vision for what could be different, and understand that it's going to be hard and take a really long time. You have to reach high and go for it. Entrepreneurs have to have that passion and zeal which in turn fuels their desire to knock down every obstacle that gets in the way. That's the core of successful entrepreneurship, whatever the product.

3. What is the best advice you ever received?

One thing that's guided me for a very long time is a very basic tenant from Joseph Campbell, "Follow your bliss." That's pretty simple but pretty powerful.

4. What's the next big project you want to tackle?

I want to help create the world's first global currency built on the Internet and built on open platforms and standards such as Bitcoin, and I want to build a financial services institution on top of that. That's what I'm doing with Circle.

5. What challenges are facing your business right now?

We've got to launch our product, and we've got to do that very effectively and deliver value to our users that they haven't had before. That's the challenge that we're trying to wrestle to the ground as we get ready to launch.

I would say the broader challenges are in the market. Regulatory uncertainty -- meaning [that] while it's clear there will be regulation on this, the uncertainty of what the regulation is going to be and how it's going to change, some of the inherent benefits of digital currency and how will it play out all around the world. It's not just about the United States; it's about a global currency. It really requires every government on the planet to have a framework and opinion on how they interact with it.

I think the market faces reputational challenges because as a free and open technology that anyone can use, it's been used for some bad things and for some really good things. But people focus on the bad things. So educating the media and mainstream consumers has also been a challenge.

6. If you could have done anything differently in your career, what would it have been?

I've always been entrepreneurial, even from the time I was 10 years old. I had little business projects and stuff. When I got involved with my first company, I didn't realize how good I was back then at leading people and managing teams and designing organizations. I thought that I was good as a strategist, communicator, visionary, but not so great at the operational side. Turns out I'm really good at that part of being an entrepreneur -- being in operations and leading teams and managing people. I wish I had started that earlier. It wasn't until I was the CTO of Macromedia and had different groups reporting to me that I moved from being a strategy leader to being an organization leader.

7. What was the most important thing you learned in school?

I studied political economy and a lot of the great political and economic philosophers who wrote about fundamental ideas like what knowledge is, human free will, different ideas for structures of society and the economy. Then we would fast-forward from early ideas to the democratic revolution that swept the world to the advanced global macroeconomic system. Those are the things that really interested me and that I really drew from my education. They provide a frame of reference for the work I do in a commercial capacity. I think I apply those ideas to a highly globally integrated world that we live in.

8. What is one goal -- either personal or professional -- that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?

Related to the work I've done in my career and the work I'm doing today, I believe we're on a path as a planet to much deeper integration of our society. I really believe in using the Internet as a connective tissue to that integration. I want to contribute to that and have a common economic foundation and a common currency and a common underlying architecture. There are artificial boundaries that exist in the world that are geographic in nature, like the way nation-states are formed and laws are applied and so for. The Internet requires evolved forms of governance that we haven't figured out as a planet. I'd love to help make that easier and make that possible.

9. What do you do to live a balanced life? What do you do for fun?

I'm married and have three kids, and I love to spend time with my family. I love to travel and try to travel as much with them as I can within the constraints of my work. I love to do outdoor things like skiing and tennis and golf. I love to read. I try to balance that out. We're all beneficiaries of the distributed work environment, so I can spend time at home and work at home. I can work as I travel. It makes a balanced life easier.

10. What was the last book you read?

The book I'm currently reading is Bank Treasury Management. We're building a financial services business, and a big part of making that work for our users is the internal operations of the treasury of the institution we're building. I'm new to the banking industry, and I'm just really trying to understand fairly deeply operationally how global financial systems work.

More from Fortune's 10 Questions series:

  • Bitcoin startup Circle lands $17 million

    The Bitcoin exchange business also launches its first consumer-focused product today.

    FORTUNE -- Circle Internet Financial has just raised another $17 million, Fortune has learned.

    The Bitcoin exchange startup, founded and run by serial entrepreneur Jeremy Allaire, closed its Series B financing round, bringing Circle's total funding to $26 million. Oak Investment Partners led the round, joining other new backers such as Pantera Capital and the Bitcoin Opportunity Fund of Barry Silbert, MORE

    - Mar 26, 2014 9:00 AM ET
  • Why Is Steve Jobs Flash-obsessed?

    Accounts of his anti-Adobe rants raise questions about what really motivates them

    I have no doubt that Steve Jobs is at least partially sincere when he complains to his staff and the gossipy editors at the Wall Street Journal about Flash, the multimedia platform Apple pointedly refuses to support on the iPhone, the iPod touch and the forthcoming iPad tablet computer.

    With his penchant for simplicity and elegance, Jobs may very well MORE

    - Feb 19, 2010 1:18 PM ET
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.