Posts from blockchain

Buyer Beware

I got this question on Twitter yesterday:

And I responded with this:

I could say a lot more and so I will.

Whether you are buying in a private placement of securities as a venture capitalist or buying in an ICO as a crypto enthusiast, there are certain things that you need to be careful about. And right now, with all of the enthusiasm for crypto assets out there, I am very concerned that nobody is being careful about anything.

So here are some things to think about before placing your order on that next ICO:

  1. The amount raised matters, a lot. More money is not generally a good thing. I wrote a blog post about this a while back. In my experience, the startups that are careful and raise modest amounts of capital outperform the startups that raise crazy amounts of capital and are overly aggressive. I would look for capped ICOs and modest amounts of capital. Teams should raise enough money to do what they want to do but you can do a lot with $10mm and a tremendous amount with $50mm. Ethereum raised $18.5mm USD (in BTC) in their token offering and lost some of that due to a decline in BTC value. And look at what they have been able to accomplish with that funding.
  2. You should understand what the token that is being offered does and have some feel for how large of an opportunity that is. I remember friends buying hot Internet IPOs in the late 90s and I’d ask them why they were investing and they would say to me “I heard its a hot deal” and I would say “But what does the company do?” and they would say to me “I don’t know, but I know I’m going to make a lot of money.” That kind of investing is dumb. Be smart and understand what you are buying and why. And if you can’t hold the investment through to the point at which the token will have real utility and real value, you might want to think twice about buying it in the first place.
  3. Valuation matters. I know that many in startup land don’t really agree with this. There are VCs who want to be in the best deals and don’t really care what they have to pay to get into them. That might work as an investment strategy but it requires a lot of luck and market timing. If, instead, you focus on valuation when you make your investments and buy into investments at prices that make sense to you and have a model for why and how the investment will be worth 10x your entry price in 5+ years, you stand a much better chance at making solid returns. There are people in the crypto space who are building valuation models. You should follow them and understand their work. And you should try to apply that kind of thinking to your crypto investing.
  4. Avoid scams and things that feel like scams. Scams are not limited to the crypto sector. They exist in all forms of investing (and many other sectors too). As VCs we often get pitched an opportunity that has red flags all over it. You learn quickly to delete those emails and not return those calls. But an emerging sector, like crypto, where there is less regulation, scrutiny, due diligence, and knowledge, scams are going to be more common. There have already been a bunch of well publicized scams in the crypto sector and I would bet that one or more successfully funded ICOs that have already been done will turn out to have been a scam in some measure. There is a difference between a intentional scam and an accidental scam, but if you are the investor, you were scammed in both instances. Be on the lookout for scams and avoid them. The best red flag for a scam is lack of detail on the technology, how it will work, and a lack of credibility of the people behind the project. Do you homework on these investments and make sure the technology and the people are credible before you part with your money.
  5. Look for projects where the technology is well specified and is working in the wild. It is much easier as a VC to invest in companies where the product has been shipped and you can use it. I would venture to guess that more than 80% of USV’s investments over the years have been into companies where that was the case. You can use Bitcoin, you can use Ethereum, you can use Steem, you can use Zcash. These are fully functioning crypto assets that have been “shipped” and are widely used. That does not mean they will be successful, but it sure gives you more confidence that they might be successful. Investing on a white paper is way more risky than investing in a working technology that you can use yourself.
  6. Don’t be greedy. This goes for both buyers and sellers in the market. You might be able to make a killing right now. But I would suggest you resist that urge. Those who play this market right over the long term will do extremely well. But trying to make a killing overnight is always a bad idea. So for sellers that means raising reasonable amounts, not all you can get. And selling more into the market over time, as Vitalik suggests in this blog post:
    If we want to strike at the heart of this problem, how would we solve it? I would say the answer is simple: start moving to mechanisms other than single round sales. For the buyers, this means not putting all of your assets to work in one ICO, or even all of your assets into crypto. Markets can crash. You need diversification to manage risk, particularly in highly volatile markets.

I have been a big booster of Bitcoin, blockchain, crypto tokens, and the like on this blog for the past six years. I am a big long term believer in this sector. USV is investing in this sector. We are investors in token funds and I believe we will start directly buying tokens soon. So we are bullish on crypto.

However, there are many things going on in the sector right now that are head shakers to us. We have been investing in startups and emerging tech sectors for over thirty years. We have seen this movie before . We know how it plays out and we know that all is not up and to the right forever.

When people are afraid, be greedy. And when people are greedy, be afraid. We are much closer to the latter scenario in crypto right now and while I am not afraid for my investments and USV’s investments in this sector, I am afraid for the sector and those who are being the most greedy right now. I am cautioning our portfolio companies to tread carefully and we are treading carefully. And I would advise all of you to do the same.

Inflation/Deflation In Tokens

I remember back in 2011 when I first learned about Bitcoin, we started talking about the technology and the model internally at USV. My partner Albert had done a lot of reading about it and he raised the 21mm hard cap as something that had both pros and cons associated with it.

Ever since then I’ve been mindful of that when looking at the design of various crytpo currencies. Most have a hard cap or some small inflationary model (like ETH).

Yesterday Albert wrote a blog post explaining some of the issues that hard caps create for crytpocurrencies.

In his post, Albert explains that the hard cap approach:

 

results in extremely rapid appreciation of tokens well ahead of their use value.

We are certainly seeing that at play right now with the rapid price escalation across the crypto landscape. Of course, some of that is the speculative fever that has invaded the sector.

But it may also be related to the inherent monetary policy that most teams are choosing for their tokens. And so I think it’s a good thing to have this discussion and think about whether a hard cap is a feature or a bug.

Crypto Token Reading List

Chris Dixon put this reading list together.

Instead of reading something from me today, maybe everyone can pick one or more posts from Chris’ reading list and learn a bit about tokens.

I believe I have read all of these posts over the past year or so and I agree with Chris that they are all quite good.

Video Of The Week: Ted Livingston Interview At Token Summit

I realize this blog is dangerously close to becoming A Coin Fund instead of AVC, but what can I say? It’s what I am thinking about most of all right now.

Here’s William’s interview with Ted Livingston, founder and CEO of Kik, on the plan to decentralize Kik around a new token called Kin.

ICOs and VCs

The Brave browser team concluded an ICO for their Basic Attention Token yesterday in about thirty seconds. This led to this tweet:

Of course folks will see ICOs as the end of the hated VC era of startup funding. And there is some truth to that.

But I see it a bit differently:

  1. Brave was VC funded prior to doing their ICO. We talked to Brendan when he was doing his seed round. He’s a great entrepreneur and technologist and he has assembled a terrific team. Although we are not investors in the company, we are sympathetic to the cause they are addressing. VC has had role in the Brave story. It helped them launch a product and get to the point where they could do a highly anticipated ICO.
  2. USV has a number of portfolio companies that will do ICOs. I have mentioned Kin and Filecoin in a previous blog post.  There will be others. Like Brave, it often makes sense for a company to raise VC to build the team and tech and get to a place where it can do an ICO.
  3. Not every company can do an ICO. Contrary to the hype machine working on ICOs right now, they are not simply a funding mechanism. They are about an entirely different business model. The token that you sell in your ICO is the atomic unit of your business model. You are selling some of it to raise capital but the main purpose of the token is to monetize your product or service.
  4. The investors who bought your token, like public market investors, may be gone tomorrow, next month, or next year, having moved on to the next big thing, leaving you with little to show for it other than the money you raised. VCs, at leas the best ones, are there for your company in good times and bad. There is a difference, trust me.

So, while ICOs represent a new and exciting way to build (and finance) a tech company, and are a legitimate disruptive threat to the venture capital business, they are not something I am nervous about and they are not something USV is nervous about. We are excited about them when they are the right thing for our portfolio companies and we are encouraging those companies to use this new approach. We are also investing in tokens, through token funds, and directly on or own.

Now I need to go put on my sweater vest.

Tokens

Our friends Balaji and Naval penned a really nice primer on crypto-tokens. 

AVC readers have been hearing me talk about this new form of business model and fund raising mechanism for a while now and so it won’t be new to all of you. But even so, I think the way they lay it all out is really well done and I’ve sent it around to a bunch of people I know who are still trying to make sense of tokens.

If you want to give it a read, click here and check it out. 

Video Of The Week: What Is Kin?

Our portfolio Kik announced last week that they plan to decentralize their messenger app and monetize via a cryptocurrency called Kin. Here’s a video they put together explaining how it will work and why it is important:

Kin

Our portfolio company Kik announced some big news today.

They are going to decentralize Kik and use a new cryptocurrency called Kin to build a business model around a decentralized Kik and, hopefully, attract other developers to build decentralized communities using Kin as well.

All of this is outlined in the Kin Whitepaper that was published this morning.

Here are the main parts of this plan:

Kin is a cryptocurrency designed to bring people together in a new shared economy.
Envisioned as a general purpose cryptocurrency for use in everyday digital services, Kin will be used for all transactions within the Kin Ecosystem. Implemented on the public Ethereum blockchain as an ERC20 token, Kin will serve as the basis of interoperability with other digital services in the Kin Ecosystem.

Kik will be the first digital service to join the Kin Ecosystem.
Kin will power a digital economy inside of the Kik app. With millions of users, Kik will drive mainstream consumer adoption of Kin, establishing fundamental value for the cryptocurrency. By natively integrating the Kin wallet into the app, it will instantly become one of the most adopted and used cryptocurrency wallets in the world.

The Kin Rewards Engine is an innovative cryptoeconomic structure intended to promote the use of Kin as a common currency.
Through the Kin Rewards Engine, Kin will be introduced into circulation as a daily reward, to be distributed among stakeholders by an algorithm that reflects each community’s contribution to the overall ecosystem. This economic structure will create a natural incentive for owners of other digital services to adopt Kin and become partners in the Kin Ecosystem.

The Kin Foundation will act as the non-profit governance body for the Kin Ecosystem. to build, enhance and monetize those services.
Over time, the Kin Foundation will ensure the delicate transition of the Kin Ecosystem into a fully decentralized and autonomous network.

As I said in the release that went out this morning, we believe cryptocurrency is the next important business model innovation in tech and Kik will be the first mainstream application to integrate a cryptocurrency. This could be a watershed moment for the blockchain sector.

I Paid $22.38 For This

This is a virtual good, called a Rare Pepe. I blogged about it a few weeks ago.

Hawkeye tweeted this at me a couple days ago:

And I liked it so I went into the Rare Pepe directory, found the card, and offered 1000 Pepe Cash for it.

1000 Pepe Cash goes for $22.38 right now in the cryptomarkets.

So I paid $22.38 for a virtual card that has no utility other than I can collect it (on my computer or phone), I can send it to someone else, I can sell it, and I can blog about it.

But the one thing I do know is that these are “rare”. There are only 391 issued right now. And that is verified on the blockchain.

Something to think about as it relates to digital media/digital art/digital music/etc which has been suffering from no scarcity value since the invention of the Internet.