Erik Finman | Courtesy photo. Finman speaks with EastIdahoNews.com reporter Nate Eaton in the video player above.
IDAHO FALLS — He dropped out of high school when he was 15, became the youngest Bitcoin millionaire, started a venture capital fund and has played a pivotal role in new tech companies.
Now Erik Finman, 25, wants the Gem State to have the best cell phone coverage in America as he launches a new company called Idaho Mobile.
“I want to come back to Idaho, a place I truly, tremendously care about, and not only expand phone and internet service but make it really affordable for everyone,” Finman tells EastIdahoNews.com. “The United States is the richest country in the world, and we shouldn’t be having places that have dead spots in Idaho.”
Hitting big on Bitcoin
Finman was raised in northern Idaho. When he was 12, he and his brother visited the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., where they witnessed people being arrested for dancing on the memorial steps, which is illegal. One of the men in the group was wearing an orange shirt with a bee on the front that looked like a $1 sign.
“I was like, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘It’s Bitcoin, man. It’s going to end Wall Street, bro,’ and then he ran off,” Finman recalls.
When Finman and his brother returned home, they researched Bitcoin. The price was under $10 at the time, and Finman used the $1,000 his grandmother had given him for college to invest in digital currency.
“It was as easy as buying something off Amazon. I thought it would be a big deal, but you’re not 100% sure if it’s really going to happen,” Finman says. “I spent every day just trying to get more and more Bitcoin and playing the markets. Some kids had sports. Some kids had video games. I had Bitcoin.”
Over the next three years, Finman earned a lot of money, and when he was 15, he dropped out of school and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. He recalls his parents being “horrified” that their teenage son was quitting his education and leaving Idaho, but he says he was a “teenager on a mission.”
When he arrived in California, Finman was interviewed by Charlie Rose and appeared on national news programs. He continued to invest, and by the time he was 18, Finman became the youngest person to earn a million dollars off Bitcoin.
“I started a tech company and then sold that tech company. Since then, I’ve kind of been a serial entrepreneur and a little bit of an investor in other cryptocurrencies,” Finman explains.
Launching Idaho Mobile
Finman’s next adventure is bringing him back home in an effort to drastically improve cell phone and internet coverage across the entire state of Idaho.
“Where I grew up in north Idaho, we had just horrible phone internet access. Half the time, we would make a call and it would fail,” Finman says. “I want to fix that problem. Internet is … a place you can search, learn, teach, apply to jobs — you can do anything on the internet. I’ve driven from northern Idaho down to Boise … and there are a million dead spots.”
Rather than building tall towers, Idaho Mobile plans to install “really big backpacks” on existing buildings or poles. Internet and cell phone technology will be contained in the packs that connect with smartphones.
A photo of the technology Idaho Mobile will use. | Courtesy photo
“The backpacks are the about half the size of a picnic table, and they’re pretty thick,” Finman says.
Idaho Mobile is focusing on installing the technology in northern Idaho first (Finman admits he’s biased) with plans to expand to eastern Idaho next. He hopes the entire state is fully covered by the end of the year.
“In the beginning, we’re doing kind of introductory plan of $11.99 a month. That won’t be there forever — just a way to get people on. I think we make 4 cents on that plan but we want to get people interested and get people trusting us.”
The company also wants to take care of customers in unique circumstances who can’t afford a cell phone plan.
“I did robotics growing up, and there was one kid on the team who was a super smart guy, but his parents couldn’t even afford power, much less internet,” Finman recalled. “So he biked to school miles and miles every day. He used one of the school laptops and eventually, I think one of the teachers felt bad for him and bought him a laptop that he would just charge at the school. So if you’re in that kind of position … you can apply for Idaho Mobile for free and I would just totally eat the cost of that out of my own wallet.”
Finman hopes Idaho Mobile makes a difference, and he looks forward to what’s next.
“I think I really like doing big things and tackling hard problems. I guess that’s why I’m doing Idaho Mobile today. … I want to tackle hard things and solve hard problems, even if it’s stressful,” Finman says. “This has been about dreaming and doing great things. I kind of have the mindset that anything was possible, and I think I’ve proved everything was possible.”
You can learn more about Idaho Mobile here.
Watch our entire interview with Finman in the video player above.
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