The topic of whether you should invest in Bitcoin is one of the most polarizing topics in the financial world today. Some see it as an outright scam while others view it as the investment opportunity of a lifetime. History will ultimately end up deciding who is right, but until then what we can do is evaluate the merits of each side of the argument. What certainly doesn’t help matters is when well respected figures in the business and finance world make uninformed and illogical arguments in order to paint Bitcoin in a bad light, sometimes out of pure ignorance and other times in a more malicious manner due to the conflicting bias that they hold. Some of these arguments you will have heard yourself when discussing Bitcoin with friends and family, and hopefully debunking these arguments coming out of the mouth of prominent figureheards will also help you in your pursuit of informing the doubters around you.
The "No Intrinsic Value" Argument
Warren Buffett is a legend in the investing space, but the 88 year old tycoon has always been better known for his value investing approach than an understanding of bleeding edge technologies. Similar to his negative stance on gold, Buffett doesn’t view Bitcoin as an investment since it “doesn’t produce anything”. Not every investment type needs to actually product something, this is only one class of investment types (and clearly where Buffett’s strengths as an investor lies). Paintings, luxury watches, classic cars, antiques, rare collectibles, sports memorabilia are all examples of assets that don’t technically produce anything but yet have clear value to many individuals and can be great investments if bought at the right time or right price. Intrinsic value is more of a philosophical term than the ultimate way to analyze investments, so forcing the concept upon an asset is a flawed argument from the outset. Let’s focus on the general non-speculative value that Bitcoin holds instead and see if there is anything more here than just trying to find the next bigger fool to sell your “worthless” holdings to.
In the case of Bitcoin, the value is in an apolotical digital means of exchange and store of value like we have never seen before and perhaps never thought possible until Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin whitepaper in 2008. Huge companies like PayPal and Western Union (which Buffett would classify as companies producing value) are on their way to complete irrelevancy due to the emergence of Bitcoin. What price that commands is the topic of another discussion, but to deny that there is real value here in the network and the currency itself would require a completely oblivious outlook on what is a transformative and revolutionary asset that is made for our time.
There seems to be a common misconception, especially among the older folk, that because you can’t touch or hold something, that it doesn’t hold value but what Bitcoin allows, when put in perspective is one of the most valuable things one could ever imagine. Bitcoin allows people to near instantly transact value with anyone around the wold they wish without the involvement of any third party at practically 0 fee. The decentralized nature means it’s removed from any government, central bank or single entity, and has transparent pre-programmed deflationary monetary policy which assures that it will not be diluted into worthlessness like practically every other currency in history. That, to people who have studied history or those who are currently experiencing the devaluation of their currency like in Venezuela, holds the upmost value. This is no longer a theoretical argument, Bitcoin has demonstrated use cases in the real world by helping store and transfer value when no other option would have worked. Even the almighty US dollar has lost 97% of its value in the last 50 years, anything that holds potential to counteract this trend should hold a lot of promise to investors who appreciate that fiat money, ultimately, is flawed.
The "It Will Be Replaced" Argument
Peter Schiff has been one of the most vocal and persistent voices against Bitcoin. Being heavily invested and involved in the gold business, one can’t really blame him for having such a strong bias against Bitcoin and the very real threat it poses to his livelihood. One of his most repeated arguments as to why Bitcoin makes for a bad investment is his claim that actually Bitcoin isn’t really limited to 21 million coins because you can make an infinite amount of clones and forks.
There’s actually two facets to this argument and they need to be tackled separately. The first is that even if Bitcoin’s code is open source and can easily be replicated, that’s not actually where it derives its value from. That would be like arguing that because someone can quickly create a Twitter or Facebook clone (which can easily be done), that those companies don’t deserve the valuations that they currently hold. The clear value that Bitcoin holds is in the network effect that it has garnered and secured over the years. The developers, the brand name, the network of users and miners, and the ecosystem of startups built around supporting it is not something that can be easily copy pasted. The Bitcoin Cash experiment, which initially looked like a crack in its armor, only ended up proving that even a (at the time due to cheaper fees) ‘improved’ clone backed by some of the most powerful figures in the space wasn’t enough to displace Bitcoin as the king.
The second aspect that makes his argument irrelevant as far as investing goes, is that if we were to apply this logic, we wouldn’t be able to invest in any stock whatsoever. Who is to say that in 10 years Facebook itself won’t be displaced similar to Myspace before it, or that Ford won’t go out of business like many other American car companies, or that Netflix won’t be as irrelevant as the business it made irrelevant before it due to a change in technology and consumer habits. The thing is that Bitcoin has been around for a decade and remains the clear leader regardless of competitors around it like Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, Dash, Monero to just name a few. And if there ever comes a time when as an investor you feel there is a real superior alternative, you can sell your Bitcoin and react accordingly…just like any other investment.
The "It's For Criminals" Argument
If we are to believe Bitcoin has caused deaths in a direct way, than Bill Gates as the creator of the Windows operating system is the father of one of the biggest death inventions in history. This is frankly an embarrassing claim, especially when you consider that research suggests that 90% of US dollar have traces of cocaine due to the overwhelming amount of drug trades using the US dollar.
The U.S. Congress Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance recently concluded that crypto is a poor form of money for terrorists. Thanks to the public and immutable nature of blockchains, many analytics tools and methods have emerged that allow investigators to track down complex criminal operations. When you compare it to the truly anonymous and no-record nature of cash, it’s no surprise that fiat money is the much better tool for crime related transactions.
The "They Will Shut It Down" Argument
If there was a Bitcoin movie, Jamie Dimon would probably be the head villain after the direct and nefarious way in which he has repeatedly gone after the nascent digital currency. As if calling it a fraud and “worst than tulip bulbs” wasn’t enough, Dimon made headlines went he said that if he caught anyone at JPMorgan trading bitcoin he would “fire them in a second”. Yet his company continues to try to apply for patents to Bitcoin-like technology despite having been rejected 175 times. Dimon has backed off Bitcoin recently and said , “I’m not going to talk about bitcoin anymore” during a third-quarter earnings call so let’s focus on the argument he lays forward in the quote above, which is the ability of governments to close Bitcoin down.
First we should realize that investing in Bitcoin IS banned in quite a few countries, with China coming at the top of the list. This had an effect on Bitcoin price but the technology continues to march forward. Ironically China is at the forefront of blockchain technology R&D and many of the Bitcoin miners are still operating from China. Many Chinese citizens continue to hold and even invest in Bitcoin despite China taking more and more steps against it. Thanks to VPNs, foreign based exchanges that require no KYC, and the digital nature of it all – it’s practically impossible for any country to actually prevent someone that really wants from owning and trading Bitcoin. Even if you prevented citizens from accessing foreign exchanges somehow, local peer-to-peer services such as Localbitcoins could still be used.
In the grand scheme of things, getting every nation in the world to agree on one specific thing is practically impossible as we have seen with peace accords, trade deals, environmental standards and other topics. In fact we are witnessing a more protectionist outlook by countries, and the clear separation of interest between parties like the US, the EU, and BRIC nations means that there will always be jurisdictions that will be pro-crypto even if it is smaller places such as Malta, Seychelles, and Hong Kong.
The reality is that now with powerful nations such as South Korea, Japan, and Switzerland already making grand steps towards adopting crypto regulations, the thought of a worldwide Bitcoin shutdown is no longer a viable possibility like it was in its very early days especially with the aforementioned “criminal uses of Bitcoin” largely debunked.
The "It's Slow and Wasteful" Argument
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman thinks that Bitcoin is eroding 300 years of monetary evolution due to the apparent slow speeds at which it functions and the resource-intensive nature of its security. While we’re not going to put much weight on the predictions of someone who once claimed the “Internet’s effect on the economy will be no greater than the fax machine’s”, it still presents us a chance to tackle the “speed” and “energy consumption” arguments against Bitcoin.
In terms of speed, Bitcoin developed a bad rep towards the end of 2017 when its network was congested causing transactions that took at times hours to process and fees that climbed way above the double digital dollar mark. While speeds and costs have normalized now, there is still the issue currently with Bitcoin block sizes/times and resulting throughput capacity making it incapable of handling volumes at the scale of VISA. While the speed and fees isn’t a problem for those who view Bitcoin as a store of value (since you hardly ever need to actually move it) it does present problems as a digital currency. That’s where the development of offchain/second-layer solutions like the Lightning Network comes in, and how the speed and cost problems will be solved.
In terms of the resource-intensiveness and reports of how the Bitcoin mining is consuming more energy than entire countries, it’s actually quite the opposite. If you are to factor in how much energy the current financial system takes to keep together (with its thousands of banks, ATMs, vaults, vans and the people consuming energy to operate them in each country) then Bitcoin actually is a drop in the bucket. With many aspects taking place in the digital realm, a future where Bitcoin and cryptos are the backbone of the financial system presents immense energy saving potential to the planet. If, of course, the environment was ever the concern of the people making the claims.
While it’s very easy to be swayed by these massively succesful and influential people, many of their arguments fall flat when analyzed from a logical and historical perspective. New technologies have shaken up industries to their core, made fools out of brilliant men and left once huge companies in the dust. Whether Bitcoin is one of those technologies still remains to be seen. After reading this, Bitcoin might still not be for you, but hopefully you at least are aware of both sides of the argument in the great debate.
Guide To Wall Street Interest In Crypto
It wasn’t too long ago that Bitcoin and cryptos were largely frowned upon, seen as a tool only relevant to terrorists and drug dealers. But 2018 has seen a huge spike of interest from Wall Street and many of the top firms in the traditional financial space have been scrambling to find their footing around regulatory uncertainty and react to the surge in demand from their clients.
It’s no secret that fresh capital and demand is needed to take the crypto market to new highs, and thus everyone has been wondering where the institutional demand will come from and which large companies will lay the groundwork to allow this on-ramp to happen. Below we present the key actors that are starting to make moves and could serve as catalysts to drive demand upwards.
Assets Under Management: $2.8 Trillion
JP Morgan has been exploring blockchain tech for over two years in a bid to use the nascent technology to solve banking-related inefficiencies. The bank’s Blockchain Center of Excellence department developed in conjunction with the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance a project called Quorum, which is currently branded as an “enterprise-focused version of Ethereum”. In March 2018 JP Morgan announced that in light of the platforms popularity and potential, they were considering spinning it off as a separate entity. This is just one of the enterprise platforms that they’re working on and JPM has continuously been at the forefront of financial firms seeking to patent blockchain based securities services.
Even JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon who grabbed headlines in September of 2017, when he slammed Bitcoin as a fraud and pretty much threatened anyone in his company they’d be out of a job if he caught them trading cryptocurrencies, has since softened his tune. In an interview with HBR in July 2018, Dimon admitted that blockchain is something they’re testing and that they “will use it for a whole lot of things”.
JP Morgan has thus far been more focused on blockchain tech than offering its clients with crypto investment opportunities, despite a report in November 2017 by the WSJ that they were considering whether to provide its clients access to CME’s new bitcoin product through its futures-brokerage unit. In May 2018, the firm created a new position called “Head of Crypto-Assets Strategy” with the aim of seeking out cryptocurrency projects that can be taken to market. It’s recently been rumored that they will be using Bakkt’s infrastructure to service their clients.
Assets Under Management: $1.5 Trillion
In 2015 Goldman Sachs got its feet wet into the world of cryptocurrencies by investing in a Bitcoin brokerage firm called Circle. Towards the end of 2017, rumors began circulating that Goldman Sachs was setting up plans to open its own crypto trading desk. This was confirmed by Bloomberg in December 2017, with plans to launch sometime at end of June 2018. In May of 2018 the NY Times reiterated Goldman’s crypto ambitions, but regulatory approval was quoted as a key hurdle from allowing them to move forward. In July 2018 Lloyd Blankfein’s 12 year long tenure as the Goldman Sachs CEO came to an end, replaced by David Solomon who was reported to be much more keen on Bitcoin and crypto than his predecessor. Solomon mentioned that his firm already offered clients publicly-traded derivatives tied to Bitcoin but said they must “evolve its business and adapt to the environment.”
On September 5 2018, Business Insider surprisingly reported that Goldman was ditching its near-term plans to open a trading desk to focus instead on a crypto custody solution, which was hinted at in August. Goldman CFO Marty Chavez quickly refuted that report as “fake news” the next day in an interview with TechCrunch and said that while their custody solution is not ready so trading ‘physical’ Bitcoin wasn’t not yet possible for them, they were building a trading platform modeled on a commodities futures trading platform. Thus currently Goldman is on track to provide over the counter derivatives, with physical custodial solutions coming further down the line.
Assets Under Management: $474 Billion
Morgan Stanley, just like JP Morgan, has been a bank that’s been proactively testing blockchain technology in some use cases. Along with Bank of New York Mellon, Morgan Stanley have been using blockchain technology based platforms as far back as March 2016 to maintain backup records and process transactions.
Morgan Stanley joined Goldman in January of 2018 when it announced that they too were clearing Bitcoin futures contracts for big institutional clients. CFO Jonathan Pruzan said at the time that Morgan Stanley were not offering custody solutions but were having regular meetings among executives to consider how else to engage with cryptocurrencies. Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman hasn’t been as dismissive as some other Wall Street CEOs regarding digital currencies and admitted back in September 2017 that they were ‘more than just a fad’.
In July 2018, the firm hired Andrew Peel, a self declared “subject matter expert for bitcoin and cryptocurrency” as “Head of Digital Asset Markets”. In September 2018, Bloomberg got the scoop on Morgan Stanley’s plans for a product that would allow clients to get synthetic exposure to the performance of Bitcoin. It would allow investors to go long or short price return swaps and Morgan Stanley would charge a spread for each transaction. The technical capability seems to be there and Bitcoin swap trading will supposedly go live following an internal approval process and once there is proven institutional client demand.
Assets Under Management: $6.3 Trillion
As the world’s largest assets manager , BlackRock made huge waves in July 2018 when they announced they were setting up a working group to assess their potential involvement in the crypto space. A BlackRock spokeswoman said the company had been “looking at blockchain technology for several years”, dating back to 2015. The newly formed cross-functional team will investigate crypto currencies and their underlying infrastructure and report their findings to senior management.
BlackRock CEO Larry Fink hasn’t historically been too fond of cryptos, highlighting back in October 2017 its frequent association with money-laundering. Fink remained skeptical on cryptos in an interview with Bloomberg in July 2018, but expressed that he’s “very excited” about blockchain technology. It was reported in September 2018 that Coinbase has been in talks with BlackRock’s aforementioned working group to seek help in launching a Bitcoin ETF. BlackRock reportedly didn’t give any concrete recommendations, which is inline with the firms mixed stance on the subject after the CEO had said in the previously mentioned interview he didn’t believe “any client sought out crypto exposure”. It remains to be seen how the world’s largest exchange-traded fund (ETF) provider will proceed.
In August of 2018, the crypto world got perhaps its biggest news of the year when ICE (Intercontinental Exchange) announced their 14 months in the making grand ambitions in the digital asset space. In conjunction with Microsoft’s cloud expertise, Starbuck’s extensive know-how in the field of mobile payment, and ICE’s (as one of the largest exchange groups in the world) leadership in the field of financial and commodity markets – a new platform called “Bakkt” was formed.
At the time much of the focus was on the consumer facing section of the platform, and whether the likes of Starbucks would really be accepting cryptos. However it soon became apparent that this was only a fraction of the plans and perhaps most important was the announcement of a fully regulated onramp, which would combine a major CFTC-regulated exchange with CFTC-regulated clearing and custody. Such a solution would actually be backed by real bitcoins and contrary to many of the services offered by other names on this list, would signify direct exposure to physical Bitcoin and potentially other digital currencies down the line.
Bakkt, which has been actively recruiting former Coinbase employees, will begin its onboarding and testing phase in November 2018 with trading scheduled to begin in December, subject to CFTC approval. Bakkt CEO Kelly Loeffler hasn’t shied away from expressing the extent of the company’s vision: “We are collaborating to build an open platform that helps unlock the transformative potential of digital assets across global markets and commerce.”
Assets Under Management: $2.6 Trillion
Fidelity has always had a bullish tone when it came to Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. The world’s 4th largest asset manager dipped its toes into the world of cryptos back in 2015 when it began accepting Bitcoin donations for its charity operation Fidelity Charitable (the second-largest nonprofit fund-raiser in the U.S). The company has mined cryptos and even allowed employees to make purchases with Bitcoin in their Boston offices. In 2017 the firm’s internal crypto fund was forced to suspend operations after two employees involved in the project left to start their own crypto funds. However Fidelity plans to resume operations as it seeks to find a new fund manager.
Fidelity CEO Abigail Johnson (who’s family owns 49% of Fidelity) hasn’t shied away from from evangelizing Bitcoin and admitted to being a big fan of the space in a rare speech at Consensus 2017. Ms. Johnson first became interested in Bitcoin and blockchain tech back in 2014 when the company’s Fidelity Labs began researching disruptive emerging technology and has allegedly personally participated in several of the firm’s crypto initiatives since.
In June 2018, Business Insider reported that Fidelity is planning to make a big move into the world of cryptocurrencies after it got its hand on some job ads. While some clients can already view their crypto holdings next to their other accounts, the plan is to go much further including building its own digital asset exchange as well as custody solutions. During Boston Fintech Week, Ms. Johnson confirmed they had “a few things underway” and that they hoped to have some things to announce by the end of 2018.
In mid-October Fidelity announced a new and separate company called Fidelity Digital Asset Services that will handle custody of cryptocurrencies and execute trades on behalf of institutional clients. The new standalone company has around 100 employees and is already in the process of onboarding its first clients with more widespread availability scheduled in early part of 2019.
Assets Under Management: $158 Billion
Citigroup have been looking into blockchain technology for a long time. Back in 2015 Ken Moore, head of Citi Innovation Labs, was quoted as saying that they have been looking at distributed ledger technology for “the last few years”. They were running tests on their very own version of Bitcoin called Citicoin, in the hopes of removing inefficiencies and counter party risk relating to the bank’s cross border prescence. In an interview with Bloomberg in 2017, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat made it clear that he didn’t think cryptocurrencies were going away and that governments would likely feel threatened and produce their own versions.
In 2017 Nasdaq and Citigroup partnered up and revealed a new blockchain payments initiative that was 3 years in the making. In July 2018, it was announced that Citigroup and 8 other banks would be part of a trial project by CLS and IBM called LedgerConnect, an app store trial for programs based on blockchain technology. In September 2018, Citigroup announced perhaps their biggest plans yet with a product called Digital Asset Receipt (DAR) that is said to enable institutional investors to invest in cryptocurrencies in a fully insured and regulated manner. This direct investment method goes around the tricky regulatory hurdles by emulating American depositary receipts, which has enabled US investors to own foreign stocks for decades.
Assets Under Management: $1.1 Trillion
Bank of America
Bank of America are part of R3‘s consortium of dozens of banks developing frameworks for applying blockchain tech to markets. America’s second largest bank doesn’t exactly see cryptos in the best of lights however. In May 2017, BofA CTO Cathy Bessant expressed her opinion that cryptocurrencies as a payment system are ‘troubling’ since there is no transparency in between the sender and receiver. They admitted in February of 2018 in their annual 10-K filing with the SEC hat cryptocurrency poses a threat to their business.
Despite what they’ve said publicly, BofA have been quietly trying to get its hands onto blockchain technology for years now, filing for over 50 blockchain patents going back to 2014, making it the largest holder of blockchain related patents. Recently in August of 2018, they filed for patents for a system that manages cyrptocurrency storage in an enterprise environment. Their recent filings relating to an online vault storage system and cold storage system suggests they might also be thinking of getting involved on the custody size as well.
Other Key Developments
Below is a series of important news that further demonstrate large players entering the space.
In May 2018 Nomura, a leading investment bank headquartered in Japan with nearly half a trillion dollars in assets under management, became the first bank to offer custody services for digital assets by partnering with Ledger and Global Advisors. The new venture called Komainu will provide infrastructure and operational framework to allow institutional level investments that previously was not possible.
After being one of the first online brokerages to offer investors access to Bitcoin futures back in December of 2017, TD Ameritrade announced in October 2018 that it was making a strategic investment in a cryptocurrency spot and futures exchange called ErisX. The platform will provide a crypto on-ramp to retail and institutional investors and signals the company is “all-in” to the world of cryptocurrences.
That wraps up our look at what some of the biggest members of the traditional financial space are up to when it comes to cryptocurrencies. There seems to be a clear trend across the board on Wall Street first largely dismissing cryptocurrencies but instead electing to focus on researching the underlying blockchain technology itself. However in the last few months the trend has largely shifted with all major players seriously looking into providing their clients with custodial solutions to actually owning Bitcoin or derivatives of it. Whether this is due to overwhelming current client demand or just an expectation of the future remains to be seen – but one thing is clear and that’s the fact that cryptocurrencies have become something Wall Street can no longer ignore.
We’ll be sure to keep this page updated with any developments, so do bookmark it and revisit from time to time.
13 Rules of ICO Investing
One of the biggest use cases of cryptos besides Bitcoin has undoubtedly been ICOs (initial coin offerings) which allows anyone from anywhere in the world to easily raise money for a blockchain based venture and provide liquid tradeable tokens to investors that often represents a currency on the platform. This trend really exploded in the summer of 2017 and reached a peak in early 2018 with money raised totaling $6.3 billion in Q1 alone. Despite it falling off in recent months, it’s not something that’s going to just disappear due to the easy way in which it allows for venture capital and startups to effortlessly meet in a digital world. While investing in the right ICOs have resulted at times in incredible gains at times surpassing 100x returns within a calendar year, other such investments have actually ended up terribly with investors losing a huge chunk of their capital. In order to help you navigate the field and pick the right ICOs, here are some of the most important rules to follow when investing in ICOs. They won’t guarantee that you’ll stumble upon a winner, but it will most certainly reduce your chances to falling prey to many of the mistakes people make when putting their money in ICOs.
Rule #1: Understand The Risks
This might sound a bit obvious as there’s a level of risk involved in pretty much any investing, but you won’t know true risk until you get yourself involved in the world of cryptocurrencies and especially ICOs. The things that happen in this space is mind-boggling and often times ridiculous, you’ll at times wonder how any of it is possible in this day and age when you’d think there should be rules and regulations to prevent some of this seedy behaviour from taking place. This is in fact why we started this website in the first place, to shine a light and do our best to help folks navigate the wild west of tokenized assets.
What do we mean by risks besides a very real chance that your investment could lose 90% of its value under a year? The team could have fake profiles like Benebit (pictured above), they could drastically switch the terms of their ICO like Mercury Protocol after launch, they can increase their hard cap after reaching a level of popularity like Enigma, they could cancel their ICO after a lengthy vetting process like Gems Protocol, or well…they could just exit scam with the money like dozens of projects do every month. You might be wondering why even participate in any ICO if the space is riddled with such shady behaviour, and the simple answer is that it is such risk that allows the few winners to post life-changing returns as is the case of successful ICOs like Ethereum, Neo, and Stratis just to name a few.
Rule #2: Realize You’re Investing In The Team
While ICOs are selling you on a revolutionary future and making all sorts of promises about their product, what you’re really investing in when you put money in ICOs is the team. Given that the ICO investment space is still largely unregulated and investments at max come with a loosely binding SAFT (Simple Agreement for Future Tokens), you really have to trust that the team is going to do right by the investors. Obviously an anonymous team is an absolute no-no and clear links to each team members LinkedIn or equivalent pages are a necessity so you can do your due diligence.
Different people have different methods for evaluating the team but past performance is indeed the best indicator of future performance in this case. You may think that the 19 year old CEO with no work history could be the next Vitalik Buterin, chances are he’s not and you’ll already be needlessly exposed to a gamble when there are already so many other facets of the investment that involve much risk which you can’t actually control. Another risk is picking teams from specific regions like Eastern Europe or China where the regulatory, business, and ethical frameworks are not as transparent or developed, and thus there’s increased chance of getting burned.
A mix of experience working on blockchain related projects and a link to the real business world where the project is going to be operating is the ideal mix. Often times you have an over concentration of one or the other and that will lead to either not enough development or not enough business development, both of which will lead to a project’s downfall. A leader that has proven entrepreneurial skills and built and exited a successful startup goes a long way.
Rule #3: Analyze The Advisor & Promoter Choices
While the intentions and mindset of the team might be hard to decipher based on looking at their resume, the way in which they go about picking advisors and influencers will be a very clear signal as to what kind of project you’re dealing with. ICOs that are looking for a quick raise and exit are much more likely to hire advisors that have short term benefits like ICO influencers and well-respected business folk that at first seem to lend the project legitimacy but you soon realize have their name tagged to dozens of ICOs and are basically just cashing in without providing much added value. We won’t call anyone out but stick around for a while and you’ll know exactly who these people are.
Another huge red flag that almost single-handedly should see you running for the exit is when ICOs use celebrities to promote their coins. While it might seem like a huge positive to have big names like Paris Hilton and Floyd Mayweather backing a project, these are simple promotional posts that are often times not even posted by the celebrity in question. Steven Segal even went on to promote a blatant scam ICO called, we shit you not, Bitcoiin with two i’s that unsurprisingly ended up being a pyramid scheme.
Rule #4: Make Sure The Price Is Right
Even the sounding ventures can be worth a punt when priced low enough and even the best sounding projects won’t make for a good investment if priced too high. The market cap of the project is the figure that’s looked at when evaluating this metric and it’s calculated by multiplying the ICO price of the token by the total amount of circulating tokens (funnily enough the total token supply is largely ignored in the space).
What constitutes the right market cap from an investment standpoint has actually very little to do with how much the team really needs to execute their vision but more to do with the state of the market (whether we’re in a bull or bear market trend) and the type of project that the ICO is building. Infrastructure projects which are building new blockchains or new protocols tend to command a higher valuation in the market compared to projects that are building dApps (decentralized apps) on an existing platform like Ethereum.
For example in a down market, even $10 million might be too much for a dApp regardless of how amazing it sounds (eg: a decentralized Airbnb) while in a bull market investors won’t bat an eye throwing $50 million+ at a new “next-generation 3.0/4.0” blockchain project. Some really hot projects, usually with some kind of Silicon Valley backinglike Filecoin or perhaps existing companies with a popular product like Telegram can raise in the hundreds of millions or even billions. These type of investments have historically not had the greatest ROI so keeping it at under $50m for a great infrastructure project and less than $15m for a dApp is a good bare maximum when considering the amount raised.
Rule #5: Project Vision/Idea Aligning With The Team & Trends
Normally the idea behind a project is the first and nearly only thing that a newbie investor will consider, but in our view it holds much lesser importance. The first question that should be asked is whether the project really needs to be on the blockchain or be decentralized, the wrong answer here and the investment case no longer exists. But beyond that we already highlighted in rule #4 that the scope of the project is more important in investor’s eyes during the speculative stage than the specific business idea itself. In terms of the specific idea, it’s more important in the short term that the market, regulatory, and business trend is aligned with the idea. For example a decentralized exchange project might be deemed attractive if we’re in a period where centralized exchanges are struggling or getting shutdown and not many alternatives exist, but much less so if there are already countless decentralized ICO projects and centralized exchanges are thriving (as is the case today). Ultimately, projects that are tackling immediate problems are more likely to do well than projects looking for a solution to inexistent problems or just providing a small improvement to current existing options.
From a more long term perspective, the execution of the idea has a much better chance at being successful if the team and advisors around the project are seasoned veterans in the specific field where they’re trying to apply a blockchain based solution. For example the crypto credit card project STK did not fare very well in the short term as the crypto card trend died down heavily following the VISA/Wavecrest shutdowns but they have a better long term outlook because they have a team made up of former banking and credit card execs.
Rule #6: Lookout For Early Investors & Bonuses
When you hear the phrase “initial coin offering” you might be thinking you’re getting in at the ground floor, but that’s usually far from the case. Depending on when the project started its funding, there could be venture capital investors that got in way before you and have secured tokens at a much discounted rate. There’s also tactics used like a pre-sale period which is more aimed at influencers or crypto hedge funds and perhaps a few well connected whales. They too will likely get bonus tokens and essentially be able to invest at a cheaper rate than you.
While this doesn’t sound like much big of a deal when it’s a raging bull market and everything is mooning, the reality during a bear market is much more harsh. Everyone is much quicker to take profits and people are even happy at times getting out of the investment at breakeven. Their breakeven however, might sometimes be equivalent to you losing half of your investment as their selling push prices down way below your acquisition cost. It’s therefore imperial when participating in an ICO or even a pre-sale to know exactly who got in at how much and at what volume and what the lockups are for such discounted prices.
Rule #7: Make Sure Team, Advisor and Early Stage Investor Tokens Have Lock-up
Following directly from the above, it’s important for all the people who’re getting either ‘free’ or heavily discounted tokens to have a vesting period that ensures they can’t just dump them on the market. Besides protecting investors who got in at higher price, this also ensures that the team has to deliver on their milestones and actually do what they set out to do if they wish for their tokens to have any sort of value. The longer the lock-up, the more confidence you can have that the team believes in what they’re doing. Some teams have such confidence in their project that they will initiate a token buy back program like Blackmoon Crypto and that can give you somewhat of a safety net in case things go south.
For smaller projects, it’s even important to look at anyone else who might be getting free tokens like bounty programs or community airdrops. These tokens tend to be insta-dumped on the market regardless of price and not having enough volume will result in a very poor start out of the gate and could cascade into further investor panic.
Rule #8: Favorable Tokenomics & Token Distribution
We’ve covered parts of this throughout the post such as having a decent cap and guaranteeing the bonus and lockups are adequately set, but there’s a few more points here that are worth pointing out. Little things like setting the initial price low enough (such as 1c per token) can have a large psychological impact as many uninformed investors feel that tokens that costs multiple dollars are ‘expensive’ when in fact the market cap is where you’ll see whether a project is overvalued. What percentage of the total tokens are in the hands of the team compared to ICO participants are also worth watching out, especially if you are looking at it from a long term perspective.
Another major factor is the profile of the investor base that managed to get into the ICO. Highly hyped ICOs that saw a huge number of participants like for example 0x ended up doing great as no one party got too many tokens. Recent attempts at trying to manufacture a demand deficit by limiting ICO investors through whitelists and tiny allocations however is starting to be less and less effective. Often times many people are aware what the ‘hot projects’ are and making retail investors jump through hoops like ‘proof of care’ devotions or participating in quizzes only serves to aggregate them. Fairly involving retail investors and not lazily relying on VCs or investor syndicate pools seems to be imperative going forward, especially in a downmarket.
Rule #9: When Exchange?
The phrase “when exchange?” is one of the biggest memes of the ICO world as investors constantly flock ICO telegram groups asking over and over again when the tokens they’ve bought will become liquid so they can sell and get their capital back. It mind sound silly and somewhat short-sighted, but exchanges do play a big role in at least the short to mid term success of a project. A decentralized network needs a community to thrive and allowing the free movement of tokens so new people can come in and existing early adopters are motivated to keep participating plays a big part in community building.
It doesn’t help that the exchange listing process seems to be more of a dark art than a science as some projects seem to be quickly listed as a result of personal connections or maybe the right amount of hype behind them, while others can’t even get listed regardless of accepting to pay the exuberant amount of fees to get listings on the top exchanges. As an ICO investor, since ICOs aren’t really allowed to directly mention exchange plans you kind of have to read between the lines of where your project is going to end up by looking at connections of team members, advisors, and even whether ICO funds have been set aside for this exact purpose. Some teams will openly declare they have no interest in paying any money to get listed in exchanges, and some even have gone as far as discourage exchanges from listing them, and these are projects you should be very careful with unless you don’t mind having your capital locked up for an indefinite period of time.
Rule #10: Having A Clear Roadmap & Timeline For A Working Product
ICO investors are largely an inpatient and restless bunch so a constant stream of news and developments is necessary to keep the spirits and confidence high and prevent early investors from dumping the token and moving on to the next shiny ICO. This is where a roadmap comes in and you’ll want to have a close eye on how detailed the roadmap is and how aggressively the dates have been set. A project that doesn’t have any milestone a few months down the line is doomed to see a lot of selling pressure. Ideally of course, a working product whether that’s an MVP, testnet, mainnet, a Beta, or a real live working product should be around the corner.
There’s really no point to have your money parked backing a research project, you want something that’s going to hit the market soon or at least is going to have some kind of impact on the space and start creating value. Some even go as far as not investing in ICOs that don’t have a minimal viable product and that’s the best way to go. The communication and marketing prowess of the team to present the developments of the project in a clear, concise, and optimistic way is also key. Many teams think they should just put their headdown and work on the tech, but that often ends up being a costly mistake as the tech often requires a network effect and that can’t function without an actively engaged community.
Rule #11: Needing A Real Token Use Case
Sometimes a project will get everything right but the token use case just doesn’t make sense. This is not something that many people talk about as we haven’t really reached that point of the market lifecycle where these tokens actually get used other than for speculative purposes. Many projects try to tie a utility to their token but often times the value of the business and network is not fully translated into the tokens themselves. We’re eventually going to transition into a point where many will have STOs (security token offerings) but current projects have been unable to offer investors any sort of dividend or actual share of the company’s profits because they conducted their ICO in a way to go around rules governing securities.
So while this rule is not so important currently, in the later stages of the lifecycle of ICOs, this is probably going to be among the most important points and it’s something you should keep in mind.
Rule #12: A Marketing Department That Understands The Double Edged Nature of Marketing
Sprinkled throughout this guide is the reminded that ICOs need a healthy community to thrive. However getting the marketing just right to achieve this whilst not appearing like a empty projects that’s mindlessly shilled is a balancing act. Projects like Tron have grown very rapidly because of their outlandish CEO Justin Sun, but at the same time they do command a questionable reputation in the space. Ripple is another company that does marketing right, but they have not presented themselves to the crypto community in the best light and continue to get many haters in the crypto community to this day.
I do believe the entire world wealth will turn into cryptocurrencies like blackhole and grow much bigger in the future. Cryptocurrency will hit 10 trillion USD market cap before @Apple and @amazon do. We will see. Time will tell. #TRON #TRX $TRX
— Justin Sun (@justinsuntron) September 12, 2018
Some projects like Chainlink have picked up bad reputations because of the practically non-existant nature of their communication and marketing. Yet they still have a cult following on sites like 4chan, so it can really go both ways and there’s no clear working formula. The announcement of announcements and other such methods are artificially tried to generate hype usually result in pump and dumps, and if done repeatedly can result in loss in the integrity of the project. At the very least, projects that have frequent and predictable updates make investors feel at ease that development is on-going and that is a nice minimum baseline to have that even projects as large as ICON realized they need. Usually you can pickup on the skill of the team in this regard during the ICO stage, so you can apply that knowledge to see how they will fare with their marketing post ICO and invest accordingly.
Rule #13: Mind The Red Flags
Last but certainly not least, you should always be looking out for red flags that might appear during the ICO funding process. Always assume something is a scam before you start looking at a project and have them convince you they’re not. This is not anything specific and can take many different forms, but if something doesn’t look or feel right, don’t get FOMO (fear or missing out) and jump into a project regardless, there’s always going to be more opportunities. Some of the possible redflags include: a whitepaper that’s been partially plagirized, a dubious money raising process like an uncapped auction, an over inflated Telegram or Twitter account followed by bots, accusations around the team’s past history, Telegram admins banning people when asked relevant questions, lacking or non-existant GitHub code repository updates, not being SEC compliant or passing the Howey test, breaking legal rules like allowing participants from countries where ICOs are banned and there are many many more.
None of this is financial advicce, but we hope this has given you an idea of what to look out for when investing in ICOs and the points you should research in-depth and be vigilant around. Please remember that ICO investing is extremely risky and only invest what you’re willing to lose – that is probably the most important rule in all of this.
Top Must Follow Crypto Entities
“Crypto Twitter” shill accounts, private Telegram groups, YouTube personalities, and new ICOs/startups seem to pop-up daily all claiming to be the new hot thing. It’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish who, if anyone, actually knows what they’re talking about and in position to provide real value.
We’ve done the hardwork for you and filtered down all the noise and highlight in this list the top xx entities in the space that are absolutely worth following. Having these personalities and groups on your radar will give you access to entities who give you primary data from its source, share insights not available to others, provide research that will help in solidifying your own conclusions, and timely breaking news that could move markets and help you long/short ahead of the masses. This page is constantly updated and we remove those that have fallen out of favor or those who simply aren’t actively in terms of public communication.
Vitalik Buterin - Ethereum Co-Founder
As the brain behind the second largest project in the space, Vitalik commands as much clout and influence as anyone in the space. He has an Elon Musk type air of genius around him and is not afraid to drop truth bombs out of nowhere. Just having a picture taken with him use to greatly elevate the hype around ICO projects – he’s got that kind of admiration in the space. He’s not afraid to express his controversial thoughts and opinions and that has served at times as a double edged sword both capable of growing the belief around decentralized platforms but also at times diffusing some of the hype around it.
Considered the top exchange in the crypto industry, Coinbase is in a unique position to not only witness directly the influx of new users but also are at the forefront of regulation and compliance. Their every communication (which usually comes from their official handle as oppose to the CEO/Co-Founder Brian Armstrong) can have market shaking implications whether that’s announcing a new custody solution, adding a new coin to their exchange, or hinting at the state of the market with their updates on legislation and consumer demand. They’re expanding their scope through acquisitions of different startups so their clout and influence is only likely to grow.
Changpeng Zhao - Binance CEO
Binance has quickly risen to become the altcoin exchange king and with it its billionaire CEO Changpeng, known simply as CZ, has become one of the most important names in the space. The down to earth attitude and open communication style of CZ is part of the allure that allowed this China born project to gain worldwide trust and respect seemingly overnight. CZ is quick to update users whenever a downtime or potential problem might be occurring (“funds are safu” as he would say), and provides many exclusive updates like the development of their decentralized exchange, fiat exchange, and other ground breaking innovations that Binance is bringing to the space.
Jihan Wu - Bitmain Co-Founder
As the co-founder of one of the most profitable companies in the crypto world and the face of Bitcoin mining as a result of Bitmain’s dominance in the space, Jihan Wu commands a certain level of attention. He hasn’t shied away from controversy either, being at the center of the Bitcoin vs Bitcoin Cash debate and pledging his support and influence over the latter and at times using profanity to do so. He continues to be a polarizing and influential figure as his company aims to conduct one of the biggest IPOs in history amid a sea of concerns. Following what this shrewd businessman elects to do with the technology, influence, and crypto holdings at his disposal is definitely something to keep an eye on.
Charlie Lee - Litecoin Founder
Charlie Lee has been heavily involved in the cryptocurrency space since its early days and being the creator of Litecoin, otherwise known as the silver to Bitcoin’s gold, is almost like we are dealing with a lite version of Satoshi himself (his Twitter handle happens to be @SatoshiLite). His passion for the ecosystem and work in the space continues to earn him fans but his persona took quite a hit at the end of 2017 when he sold his Litecoin at the peak of the bubble. He continues to be an outspoken but well informed figure about everything going on in the space so he’s always been considered a reasonable voice people are seeking to hear.
SEC - Securities & Exchange Commission
Fear of crushing regulation is something that crypto investors have always had in the back of their mind as a primary concern. Ten years into Bitcoin, there’s still a lot of doubt and uncertainty as to how governments, and in particular the United States will deal with cryptocurrencies. Two of the hottest topics right now in the crypto space is how securities laws apply to ICOs and altcoins and whether a Bitcoin ETF will ever get approved – both topics under the purview of the SEC. When one Tweet from them can cause double digit percentage moves in crypto price, you follow.
Arthur Hayes - Bitmex Co-Founder & CEO
Quickly rising to the top of the influencer list is Arthur Hayes, the man behind the controversial yet red-hot leveraged crypto derivatives trading platform Bitmex. If facilitating the shorting of Bitcoin and Ethereum at up to 100x and 50x respectively (with crazy volumes we might add) didn’t draw him enough heat, he’s not been shy to speak his mind both on CNBC (where he predicted BTC to reach $50k by end of 2018) or his blog (where he called Ethereum a double digit shitcoin) and rile up the crypto community. Whether you believe his words or not, he definitely compels you to listen.
Joseph Lubin - ConsenSys Founder
After co-founding Ethereum, Lubin started up ConsenSys which now boasts a global team of 1100 members that has tasked itself with building the infrastructure, applications, and practices that enable a decentralized world. A consulting arm of the project enables Lubin and his team to work with top companies and governments around the world and having frontrow seat to the development side of the tech, he’s in prime position to anticipate and comment on when and where the adoption will come from. He appears in front of mainstream media outlets frequently to reiterate his belief that we’re living in exponential times and that adoption is right around the corner.
Thomas Lee - Fundstrat Global Co-Founder
As one of the first Wall Street strategists to embrace Bitcoin, Tom Lee has the type of street cred that few of his background share. While he can often be found on CNBC making overly bullish predictions, his true gems lie on Twitter where he shares a lot of research he and his team have come up with. If you are in the search for data backed analysis of the crypto world, few in the space deliver like Lee does.
Winklevoss Twins - Gemini Founders
Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, of Facebook/’Social Network’ fame, have been early investors in the crypto space going as far as their involvement with BitInstant and were among the first publicly recognized Bitcoin billionaires. Their Gemini exchange was the first licensed exchange to add Ether back in the day and they also recently launched the world’s first regulated stablecoin backed by US dollars. They’re always trying to actively push the space forward and perhaps their biggest battle has been to launch a Bitcoin ETF, which has thus far repeatedly been rejected. As well respected entrepreneurs in the startup world, they continue to remain hungry, relevant, and highly influential.
Andreas Antonopoulos - Author/Educator
It wouldn’t be a stretch calling Andreas the most respected person in the crypto space. He’s dedicated his career to educating, evangelizing and most notably writing about blockchain and Bitcoin in his books “The Internet of Money” and “Mastering Bitcoin”. You won’t find him make outrageous price predictions or promoting any specific project, but he’s the go to guy as far as a deep understanding, teaching, and spreading of the crypto movement and how it has come about. As a prolific speaker and leading expert with unique background, his insights are definitely worth following.
Michael Novogratz - Galaxy Digital CEO
It’s rare for someone as experienced in the traditional financial space as former Goldman Scahs partner Novogratz to be so actively involved in the crypto space, and that makes him an absolute must-follow person on the list. As head of a cryptocurrency investment firm, the billionaire investor has been hard at work trying to apply his success and experience on Wall Street onto this new frontier. It’s definitely a plus to have someone as connected as him involved in this new industry and he often shares his thoughts on the industry and the market publically.
Max Keiser - Keiser Report Host
Max is probably the most recognizable face for someone just stepping into the cryptocurrency world, as the host of the highly entertaining financial news show Keiser Report on RT. Besides his eccentric character and open disdain for the traditional banking system, Max has real cred in the space for his public calls to buy Bitcoin going as far back as when it was in the single digits. Lesser known fact is that he founded a virtual securities exchange platform called Hollywood Stock Exchange way before it was cool to trade digital assets. Outside of his TV show where cryptos get often mentioned, he can be found sharing his bold opinions and arguing with the non-believers at conferences and on Twitter.
Peter Schiff - Euro Pacific Capital CEO
While banker Jamie Dimon is seen as Bitcoin’s biggest public enemy, it is in fact Peter Schiff who is its most vocal and persistent adversary. As a gold bug, major critic of the current financial system and someone who predicted the 2008 housing crisis, Schiff would at first glance seem like the prototypical crypto enthusiast. However Peter relentlessly believes Bitcoin and cryptos are headed to 0 and he’ll talk about it any chance he gets whether that’s on his frequent television appearances, on his Facebook, podcast, and recently even debating notable crypto personalities. It’s always healthy to keep a contrarian viewpoint in sight and for that reason Peter Schiff is worth a follow.
Roger Ver - Bitcoin.com CEO
Many of the Bitcoin OGs that paved the way in the early days have fallen off the face of the map, but Roger Ver (once known as Bitcoin Jesus for being the first to really invest in Bitcoin startups and spread the cause) keeps finding ways to stay relevant. His personal stock took a big hit when he became one of the faces of the Bitcoin Cash movement, but the passionate entrepreneur still has a tight following among people who share his view that Bitcoin became unusable in commerce due to Blockstream’s mishandling of the scaling debate. It’ll never be a boring day following Roger Ver as he can often be found fighting rigorously for his beliefs on Twitter and debating whomever agrees to spar with him.
Bakkt, a venture formed out of a partnership between Microsoft, Starbucks, and NYSE parent company ICE, represents probably the biggest adoption case in Bitcoin’s decade long history. When this venture was announced back in August of 2018, it was instantly labeled a game-changer by all pundits involved in the industry. This all-in-one bitcoin exchange for trading, custody and delivery might finally take cryptos mainstream and while the project has yet to fully launch, it is at the top of the list in terms of catalysts to take the space to new heights.
Teeka Tiwari - Palm Beach Research Group Editor
Teeka Tiwari has somewhat of a mixed reputation in the space, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be gained from following him as his track record of investing in Ethereum and Neo in their early days has shown. The exiled Wall Street executive now heads a paid for newsletter membership called Palm Beach Confidential where he tries to pick out the hottest new projects in the space as well as distill insider information he’s accrued over the past few years he’s spent forming relationships and traveling to talk with builders and investors in the space. You won’t find him on the usual channels like Twitter but his reports and insights are quickly circulated on platforms like Telegram and often tend to move the markets.
The Tapscotts- Blockchain Revolution Authors
Besides being authors of the best-selling book “Blockchain Revolution”, the father/son combo of Don and Alex Tapscott also spearhead the Blockchain Research Institute that studies the impact of blockchain technology on business, government & society. They sit on the advisory boards of many prominent projects in the space (like ICON and AION) and Don especially is known for conversing with government leaders on a frequent basis to advise them towards the right path. His keynote speeches at conferences are always must-watch material.
Barry Silbert - Founder of Digital Currency Group
Barry Silbert is one of the old timers who bought Bitcoin back when it was in single digits, but he’s put that to good use when he founded Digital Currency Group that’s had a hand in being early investors to startups in the space like Bitpay, Coinbase, and Ripple. Overseeing different parts of the industry through his ownership of different entities like CoinDesk (news), Grayscale (asset management), and Bitcoin Investment Trust – Barry remains a person with insight worth following, even if he has a tendency to shill his own projects.
John McAfee - McAfee Antivirus Founder
Even if it’s for the pure entertainment value alone, John McAfee is an absolute must follow in the cryptocurrency space. As the creator of the first commercial antivirus software, McAfee made world headlines when he announced in 2017 that he would eat his d!ck on national television if one Bitcoin wasn’t worth $500,000 by end of 2020 (he later doubled down and predicted $1 million). He’s constantly involved in some new project whether that’s ICOs, a news site, a hardware wallet, or anyway really he can make money and keep living his outlandish lifestyle. Do remember that you should take all the influencers on this list with a grain of salt, and that especially applies to McAfee.
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