Long before the craze, publicity and dramatic price jump, Menlo alumni John Reinstra (‘16), Julian Christensen (‘16) and Ian Loftis (‘16) explored their interest in Bitcoin throughout high school by creating a company, Acacia Trading, that aimed to simplify the Bitcoin trading process.
Bitcoin, created in 2009, is a type of cryptocurrency. A cryptocurrency is a digital medium of exchange or payment that uses digital encryption to transfer funds. Bitcoin is also a decentralized currency, meaning that it is not distributed or regulated by a central group.
In 2016, during their senior year, the young entrepreneurs became frustrated with the current Bitcoin trading services and aspired to help simplify the process. “The [services] that were easy to use didn’t really do much, so we wanted to create a solution that was flexible and could give you a lot of options with your trading bot, but still be pretty inexpensive and easy to use. We decided to just make a company out of it,” Reinstra said to The Coat of Arms in 2016.
Acacia Trading additionally incorporated a bot that made transactions for the user. “[The bot] made trades based on movements of prices […] and had settings for how aggressive you wanted the algorithm to be,” Reinstra said.
At its peak in 2016, Acacia Trading had customers in 30 different countries around the world. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are global and gave the high school students a true feel for their impact. “It was really cool as a high schooler to be able to actually have a tangible impact […] and create a real product that people were using,” Reinstra said.
In 2016, the three friends were unsure of the future of their company. Having not seen enough success to continue working, they decided to end the company. “Each of us went to different schools, and we realized it would be hard to work together,” Reinstra said.
Five years and a major in computer science at Stanford later, Reinstra is working at Robinhood, a company that offers users all over the world the ability to invest in stocks and cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin.
Robinhood was created in 2013 by two other Stanford graduates and today has over 13 million users. The company often caters to a young and sometimes inexperienced audience. The average user is 31 years old, and half of its customers are new to investing, the company said. This large demographic continues to grow on Robinhood. With just a few clicks, users can trade a variety of stocks and cryptocurrencies for no fees.
Robinhood and Acacia Trading certainly have similarities, and Reinstra’s experiences at Menlo partially led to his future in tech. “I think working on Acacia Trading solidified my thinking that I wanted to major in computer science and wanting to do that for a living,” Reinstra said. “I think it made me realize that I enjoy this kind of thing.”
Additionally, Menlo’s computer science program helped kindle Reinstra’s interest in building his own company. “The way that Menlo emphasized thinking about how you write code and the theory behind computer science and software […] helped in a huge way of us being able to actually build [Acacia Trading].”
Reinstra values his experience with computer science at Menlo. “I’d recommend [the Intro to Computer Science class] to anyone,” Reinstra said. “There are so many people who don’t think they’ll like computer science until they try it, and then [they] try it and they enjoy it a lot.”
Outside of learning in the Menlo classroom, Reinstra recommends online resources like the Bitcoin Subreddit and exploring the internet to learn more.
The world of Bitcoin and crypto can be confusing and intimidating for a high school student, but Reinstra and friends proved that its many complexities could not deprive them of success. “It surprised me how high schoolers can build something that is real and can actually make a difference,” Reinstra said.