With rumors, controversy, and news abuzz about its upcoming IPO, Chinese cryptocurrency mining chip firm Bitmain has been thrust into the spotlight in recent months. Jihan Wu, Bitmain’s cofounder and co-CEO, has gotten most of the media coverage, largely because of his prominent online social presence.
Meanwhile, Micree Zhan, Bitmain’s other cofounder and co-CEO, has kept a much lower profile but owns a much bigger stake in Bitmain than Wu does. Zhan is Bitmain’s technical mastermind and owns 36.58% of the company, while Wu’s stake is 20.5%, according to the leaked pre-IPO investor decks. The Beijing-based company is confident that it will achieve a $14 billion market capitalization once it offers shares to the public, according to its pre-IPO investor materials. That would make Zhan’s stake worth at least $5.1 billion and Wu’s stake worth nearly $2.9 billion.
Forbes isn’t so bullish. After talking with analysts, we estimate Zhan’s net worth at around $4 billion and Wu’s at close to $2.3 billion. Forbes valued Bitmain by applying price-to-sales ratios from comparable companies including Nvidia, AMD, Qualcomm, Mediatek and Cisco.
It is important to note that there are no directly comparable companies given the unique nature of Bitmain. We picked these companies because they are also fabless chip makers, companies that design and sell chips and hardware but outsource production to another manufacturer, per Daiwa Capital Markets analyst Rick Hsu’s guidance. Bitmain is not purely a semiconductor company; a portion of its revenue is also derived from its mining pools, BTC.com and Antpool. And given the novelty and volatility of the current cryptocurrency industry, the application of these mining chips is uncertain, according to Mark Li, a senior technology analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Brett Simpson of Arete Research noted that Bitmain should be viewed as an early-stage version of Cisco, when there was plenty of uncertainty in the future of IP.
Despite his role as the technical backbone behind Bitmain, little is known about Zhan, an engineer who developed the custom application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips that have propelled the global growth of the largest crypto-mining chip producer. Even his LinkedIn profile is stark, listing only “CEO at Bitmain” and nothing about prior jobs or education.