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Bootstrapping with Bits

The theory may be impeccable, and the founders’ credentials outstanding, but how does a startup transform a micropayment system into a practical, sellable product? That’s the stuff of late-night whiteboard discussions enhanced by takeout Chinese food and bad TV movies, says Joe Bergeron, Peppercoin’s vice president of technology. Bergeron, a baby-faced programming whiz, has the task of translating Rivest and Micali’s algorithms into software. Like any good engineer at a startup, he has spent many a night under his desk trying to squeeze in a few hours of sleep. “I’m dreaming in Peppercoins now,” he says.

Minting micropayments starts with hardware. A secure data center a few kilometers from company headquarters houses hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of computing horsepower and memory. All of Peppercoin’s money transfers flow electronically through these machines. A rack of 20 processors and backups and four levels of hardware security are set up in a special cage walled off by Plexiglas guaranteed to withstand a 90-minute riot; the rental contract even specifies that the cage will repel “small-arms fire and manual tools.”

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