Founder & CEO, KeepKey
“I was always trying things.”
That simple declarative sentence stands as perhaps the perfect reflection of the entrepreneurial spirit, so it is not surprising that it surfaces multiple times in a discussion with Darin Stanchfield, the 35-year-old founder and CEO of Bitcoin hardware wallet KeepKey.
Stanchfield utters the phrase at different points of a recent interview, first remembering the tinkering he engaged in as a child growing up in Southern California after successfully wresting away the family’s
IBM 386 from an older brother with whom such access was a constant flash point. (For the record, the two are close today.)
“I was absolutely a nerd,” he remembers. “This was even before the Internet boomed, in the early ’90s. I was always trying to see what the computer could do, so I had my face in it all the time. My parents even had me talk to a counselor. They told her, ‘The kid doesn’t have any friends, all he wants to do is play on the computer.’
“Now,” Stanchfield jokes, “I rub it in their faces.”
Stanchfield parlayed his childhood obsessions into a degree from Utah State University in business and computer science, then landed a backroom engineering job with tech marketing company Oversee.net just as the dot.com bust was starting to turn in a more positive direction.
He had also by then turned the corner on his childhood nerd-dom, with Oversee soon moving him to the R & D department where he reported directly to the CEO. “Then I realized this was all something
I could do on my own, with more flexibility and fewer constraints,” he says.
Score another one there for classic utterances of the entrepreneurial spirit, leading to Stanchfield’s breaking away at the tender age of 25 for the more self-directed waters of company ownership. He has been swimming happily there ever since.
Stanchfield and his cohorts at Bothell, Washington-based KeepKey started shipping the company’s sleek black Bitcoin wallets in late September 2015 after a 19-month ramp-up. The effort called on the same combination of systematic analysis and preparation mixed with the requisite entrepreneurial daring that fueled his two previous company launches. One of those, the lead generation company Engage Traffic, is still going strong under the daily guidance of a longtime business partner while Stanchfield tends to the considerable requirements of a new product to serve the growing Bitcoin community.
And by “Bitcoin community,” Stanchfield does not mean the like-minded computer engineering world where he himself is rooted. His target customer is instead the non-techie layperson who is drawn to
Bitcoin but daunted by talk of “hot” and “cold” wallets and all the rest of the insider lingo that is second nature to Bitcoin devotees but may as well be an obscure tribal dialect to the outside world.
“Our customer is not the computer engineer; they can store their own bitcoins without any problems,” he says. “It’s the non-technical people who need help. Two words guide us: ‘security’ and ‘simplicity.’ We wanted a way for regular people to easily store bitcoins. It’s easy to make things complex, but hard to get all the complex factors out of the way to make them easy. We think we’ve done that with KeepKey.”
Indeed, the whole look and language of KeepKey brings to mind the elegant simplicity of an Apple computer, about whose inner workings 99 percent of users know next to nothing while happily
enjoying its technological benefits. A barely two-minute video on KeepKey’s website features engineer Kenneth Heutmaker walking viewers through the setup of a wallet. The process more resembles a consumer ATM transaction than it does an advanced algorithm for engineers. That’s exactly the way Stanchfield envisioned it when his research into Bitcoin wallets led to a kind of graveyard where smart, well-intentioned ideas get buried in a blizzard of obscure technical overkill.
”Two words guide us: ‘security’ and ‘simplicity’. We wanted a way for regular people to easily store bitcoins.”
One person, using one device, ensuring ultimate security is the basic KeepKey formula. “I always said if we have to use the term ‘multi-party signatures,’ we’re not doing it right,” Stanchfield says. “That takes people down a rabbit hole. But they understand ‘wallets’ and ‘joint accounts’ and ‘co-signers.’ They can build in multi-party security if they want, but it’s not required, and nothing needs to be online for
customers to safely store their bitcoins. We call it ‘your private bitcoin wallet.’”
Stanchfield admits to going “all obsessive” upon discovering Bitcoin in 2011. And though work consumes a great deal of his imagination and energy, he has adopted the practice of closing up his laptop Friday afternoons until Monday morning, the better to be fully present to his wife and daughters, ages 1 and 3. “When I get home, it’s playtime,” he says. “As obsessive as I can get about business, I’ve learned how to separate.”
So there it is: a simple solution to the challenge of family time for busy entrepreneurs—perfectly aligned with the tenets of KeepKey.