Cointelegraph By Jordan Finneseth
In the traditional investing world ‘unicorn’ is a term used by venture capitalists to describe a privately held startup valued at more than $1 billion.
Typically these startups have strong fundamentals and oftentimes a first-mover advantage that helps them rapidly rise in value to become prized investment opportunities for yield-seeking funds.
Some of the best-known unicorns include Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a private rocket and spacecraft manufacturer with a valuation of $46 billion, and Coinbase, the largest U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange with a current valuation of $8 billion.
While the world’s attention has been focused on the Coronavirus pandemic, the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, and the recent r/Wallstreetbets social investing phenomenon, the crypto sector has quietly ascended to a total valuation of over $1.2 trillion.
Adding to this, currently there are more than 55 unicorn status projects that have a market cap over $1 billion.
Recent Bitcoin (BTC) evangelism from the likes of Michael Saylor, Mark Cuban and Elon Musk are helping shine a spotlight on the nascent crypto industry, and with it comes the discerning eye of institutional investors who will quickly want to look beyond BTC to what other promising opportunities exist in the space.
These projects are no longer just focused on making cryptocurrency a global means of exchange. Some of the top projects include smart contract platforms, decentralized finance (DeFi) protocols, privacy tokens, oracles providers and even humor-oriented meme coins.
With that in mind, here are some of the top crypto unicorn projects to keep an eye on as institutions begin to make their presence felt in the cryptocurrency markets.
Bitcoin is the ultimate first-mover in the crypto space as it paved the way for the rest to come into existence and holds more than 61% of the total market value with a current market cap of $843 billion.
As the longest-running chain possessing the strongest mining network of all proof-of-work cryptocurrencies, BTC is likely to be the go-to choice for new money coming into the sector which will take a cautious approach to start out with.
Similar to how many of the current crypto faithful got involved in the space, Bitcoin will be the “gateway coin” that introduces the concept and leads to further exploration.
Ethereum (ETH), with a current market cap of $196 billion, is the obvious second choice as it is the most-utilized smart contract platform and home to a majority of the top DeFi protocols that have surged in popularity in recent months.
Other legacy projects that have survived multiple bull-bear cycles and achieved unicorn status include Litecoin (LTC), which has emerged as a reliable value transfer alternative to the higher fees and longer block times of BTC, and the privacy-focused Monero (XMR) and Zcash (ZEC), which paved the way in bringing anonymity to blockchain transactions.
These projects currently have market caps of $10.5 billion, $2.75 billion and $1.07 billion respectively.
Decentralized finance takes center stage
Since early 2020, one of the main driving forces in the growth of the cryptocurrency sector has been the emergence of decentralized finance.
Decentralized exchanges (DEX) like Uniswap have steadily grown from being a simple exchange interface dApp to a sprawling trading platform that now averages a 7-day trading volume of $6.72 billion, a figure that rivals volume of the top centralized exchanges.
Uniswap’s UNI governance token was initially airdropped to users of the interface who took a chance on the protocol while it was still in development, but now the token can be found on all major centralized and decentralized exchanges.
The protocol also received venture capital backing to ensure further development. With a current market cap of $5.9 billion and a token price of $19.79, Uniswap is likely to be on the watchlist for the smart money eyeing the space.
SushiSwap, the main competitor to Uniswap, has also achieved unicorn status with a current valuation of $1.8 billion. The platform offers a community-focused system that allows token holders to stake their SUSHI to participate in governance as well as earn passive income from trading fees generated by the protocol.
While DEXs helped facilitate the growth of DeFi, lending protocols have emerged as the top draw for total value locked (TVL) and higher token values.
Maker (MKR), AAVE and Compound (COMP) are the leading platforms when measured by the total value locked (TVL) in the protocol. Currently there is a combined $15.63 billion in value deposited in smart contracts that interact with the protocols and their market caps range from $2.1 billion to $5.98 billion.
In addition to the high yield opportunities offered by staking protocols, retail investors are also attracted to the governance features that give token holders a say in the future development of the protocol. These DeFi darlings are likely to pique the interest of long term capital.
Ethereum congestion drives smart contract innovation
Ethereum’s dominance in DeFi has proven to be a double-edged sword as increasing network congestion resulted in an untenable surge in gas fees.
The recent record-high gas fees have opened the door for other smart contract platforms to fill the need for layer-2 options, as well as highlighting the need for oracle providers that can communicate data securely across platforms.
Promising smart contract platforms that have emerged include Polkadot (DOT) and its sister chain Kusama (KSM), which introduce interoperability with Ethereum and other top blockchains as the solution to the current siloed nature of separate networks.
DOT’s market cap has risen to $18.8 billion as its prominence continues to grow and Kusama is new to the unicorn club as its market cap just surpassed the $1 billion mark for the first time on Feb. 6.
Interestingly, Cardano (ADA), one of the 2017 ICO-era projects, has also started gaining momentum in recent weeks following the addition of smart contracts to the protocol and hints of future DeFi related endeavors.
Currently, Cardano’s market cap is $19.8 billion and the integration of DeFi could help propel its value higher as ADA has yet to tap into the liquidity offered on decentralized exchanges.
Theta captured the first-mover advantage when it comes to blockchain-based video streaming and the project has recently added smart contract functionality, the ability to create non-fungible tokens, and they launched the Thetaswap DEX on Feb. 4.
Oracles join the party
As more participants enter the crypto space and new blockchains emerge to fit specific niches, communication between separate networks will become essential to the overall health and continued growth of the sector.
This is where oracle projects come in to offer reliable, secure ways to transfer data.
Chainlink (LINK) is the top oracle project in terms of protocol integrations and its valuation. LINK currently has a $10.37 billion market cap and the project’s recent integration with Kraken exchange is expected to add further value to the project.
Meanwhile, upstarts like UMA and The Graph (GRT) have only recently achieved unicorn status as the 2021 bull market heats up. Both projects have developed novel ways to track, record and transmit data and they have reached valuations of $1.7 billion and $1.1 billion.
GRT has been especially active in the growth department, announcing multiple partnerships and upcoming integrations including bridges to DOT and Binance Coin (BNB).
The ‘unicorn’ herd will expand
Bitcoin burst onto the financial scene more than twelve years ago and has steadily forged a path to prominence that governments and the global financial system can no longer ignore.
Now that institutions are finally beginning to dip their toes into BTC and ETH, it’s time to take an even closer look at what the emerging blockchain ecosystem has to offer.
The herd of unicorns is likely to expand and considering that the decentralized finance sector is still in a very early growth stage, there’s plenty of value to be found in these unicorn projects.
The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph.com. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.
Bitcoin nerves, Tesla told to dump crypto, NFT madness
Cointelegraph By Editorial Staff
Coming every Saturday, Hodler’s Digest will help you track every single important news story that happened this week. The best (and worst) quotes, adoption and regulation highlights, leading coins, predictions and much more — a week on Cointelegraph in one link.
Top Stories This Week
Bitcoin traders worry as price remains pinned below $50,000
After reaching lows of $43,500 last Sunday, Bitcoin staged a comeback, managing to hit $52,000 on Wednesday. There was optimism that the correction was over and that BTC would now have the chance to return to all-time highs.
Alas, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Fast forward to this weekend, and Bitcoin is once again struggling to break above $50,000 — a psychologically important milestone. Now, the nerves are starting to set in.
A drop below recent lows of $46,000 could open the door to further downward movement, endangering a bull run that’s been in place for almost a year… at least in the short term. Pseudonymous trader Rekt Capital believes BTC could bottom between $38,000 and $45,000 if this level fails to hold.
Traders are now beginning to speculate that Bitcoin may continue to trade sideways for now. A gloomy macroeconomic picture dominated by rising bond yields and a pullback in tech stocks certainly isn’t helping matters.
Then again, there’s always a metric that shrugs off the gloom… suggesting everything is fine. Glassnode’s Reserve Risk indicator suggests that BTC’s rally is still in the early to middle stage — even after this week’s pullback. Great. Nothing to worry about, then.
Analyst tells Tesla to dump Bitcoin for buybacks as shares plunge
Tesla is now coming under pressure to sell off the $1.5 billion it holds in Bitcoin. Since the electric vehicle maker announced its crypto buy-in, TSLA shares have fallen by a stomach-churning 30.8%.
Gary Black, the former CEO of Aegon Asset Management, tweeted that Tesla would generate “positive momentum” if it bows out of crypto, adding: “Highly unlikely, but shareholders would be very supportive.”
Bitcoin’s price correction has also been hurting MicroStrategy — the business intelligence firm that owns more than 91,000 BTC. MSTR’s share price has tumbled by 52.8% in less than a month.
The company doesn’t seem too worried, though. MicroStrategy bought another 205 BTC this week in a $10-million spending spree that coincided with the latest dip.
While the software company began putting its existing assets into BTC in 2020, back when Bitcoin traded at about $10,000, its latest purchases have yet to break even.
Kings of Leon is releasing an album as an NFT
Buckle yourselves in… we’ve got so much NFT news to get through. One of the more attention-grabbing headlines this week came when Kings of Leon announced it is releasing its eighth album in the form of a nonfungible token.
Three types of NFTs are on offer, with the rarest offering front-row seats to Kings of Leon concerts for life, a personal driver and the chance to hang out with the band before shows.
Frenzied activity in the NFT sector doesn’t end here. The rarest Pepe of them all — “Homer Pepe” — went under the hammer for 205 ETH this week… that’s worth $323,000 at the time of writing. Meanwhile, an NFT made up of 100 individual pieces from 100 different artists sold out within minutes on Rarible.
Aavegotchis — NFTs inspired by the Tamagotchi devices that were oh so trendy in the late 1990s and early 2000s — were snapped up in under a minute. And as sales on NBA Top Shot continue to go through the roof, the executive chairman of the sports merchandise company Fanatics, Michael Rubin, said: “It’s almost a frenzy happening right now.”
If all of this wasn’t crazy enough, an original artwork by Banksy has been burned and turned into an NFT. Ironically, the piece is called “Morons” and depicts buyers at an art auction bidding on a piece emblazoned with the words “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit.”
Tether hit with 500 BTC ransom demand, but says it won’t pay
Still dusting itself off after a showdown with the New York Attorney General, Tether is really struggling to catch a break right now.
This week, hackers threatened to release sensitive company documents that supposedly belonged to Tether… unless they were paid a 500-BTC ransom — a staggering sum worth $23.8 million at the time.
Tether announced what was happening on Twitter and declared: “We are not paying.”
The deadline has now passed, but what remains unclear is whether the extortionists are attempting a simple cash grab, or whether it’s all part of a greater effort to undermine Tether and the rest of the Bitcoin ecosystem.
“Either way, those seeking to harm Tether are getting increasingly desperate,” the company added.
No crypto ban in India: Finance minister predicts “very calibrated” stance
There’s been another dramatic twist in the “will they, won’t they” saga of India’s planned crypto ban.
On Saturday, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said reports that the government is pursuing a blanket ban on cryptocurrencies are overstated. She stressed that regulations won’t be as “severe” as previously reported and that the authorities were determined to take a “very calibrated” stance.
The comments will no doubt come as a relief for crypto businesses and investors in the world’s second-most populous country following years of uncertainty.
At one point, India was considering introducing jail terms of up to 10 years for anyone caught dealing in cryptocurrencies — along with a hefty fine. The country’s central bank also introduced a ban that stopped banks from offering services to crypto businesses, causing several to collapse. Those restrictions were sensationally overturned by the Supreme Court last year.
Sitharaman’s latest remarks are at odds with a Bloomberg report last month that claimed crypto assets would soon be completely banned in India.
Winners and Losers
At the end of the week, Bitcoin is at $48,445.86, Ether at $1,607.45 and XRP at $0.46. The total market cap is at $1,484,740,419,357.
Among the biggest 100 cryptocurrencies, the top three altcoin gainers of the week are Chiliz, Enjin Coin and Flow. The top three altcoin losers of the week are Cardano, 1inch and Stellar.
For more info on crypto prices, make sure to read Cointelegraph’s market analysis.
Most Memorable Quotations
“You should look for relative strength when others are weak. Global macro sold off yesterday and BTC did not give a donkey.”
Kyle Davies, Three Arrows Capital co-founder
“Bitcoin is holding up against the macro spectacularly well.”
Lex Moskovski, Moskovski Capital CEO
“The fact that Bitcoin continues to show strength even with GBTC acting like a resistance band holding it back is very encouraging and shows to me that the overall story, that of accelerating adoption, is still intact.”
Chad Steinglass, CrossTower head of trading
“I think there’s going to be tremendous value created, but also there’s so many people getting into it, I don’t think everyone’s going to be successful.”
Michael Rubin, Fanatics executive chairman
“It’s early stages, but in the future, I think this will be how people release their tracks: When they sell a 100,000 at a dollar each, then they just made $100,000.”
Josh Katz, Yellowheart CEO
“I think Reed Hastings is a very innovative guy and has a lot of creative thinking, and I think he still controls the reins at Netflix, and so I think that might be the next big one to fall.”
Tim Draper, serial investor
“What we are seeing built with crypto today is just proof of concept. As tech continues to get better/cheaper/faster there will be new applications and maybe even something that supersedes what we know as crypto today.”
Mark Cuban, billionaire
“I see HOMERPEPE as the most important NFT in art history because its headline-making sale in 2018 influenced so many of the original crypto artists to believe we could put our art to work building both a market and belief around this new technology.”
Matt Kane, artist
“Is Bitcoin a currency? Property? An asset? Maybe all of the above, I’m going in with a 3% portfolio allocation.”
Kevin O’Leary, Shark Tank investor
“Bitcoin has returned almost 200% (so nearly tripled your money), every single year for 10 years, *compounded*.”
“We’re sending a clear message to the entire industry that you either play by the rules or we will shut you down.”
Letitia James, New York Attorney General
“Those seeking to harm Tether are getting increasingly desperate.”
“There are a host of risks and obstacles that stand in the way of Bitcoin progress. But weighing these potential hurdles against the opportunities leads to the conclusion that Bitcoin is at a tipping point.”
Prediction of the Week
Bitcoin price is going to “infinity” — Kraken CEO
Hodler’s Digest has been home to some pretty sky-high Bitcoin price predictions over the years — $500,000 here, $1 million there. Determined not to be outdone, Kraken’s CEO has gone nuclear… predicting that BTC will be worth “infinity.”
Jesse Powell believes that, one day, humanity will simply give up pricing Bitcoin in U.S. dollars — telling Bloomberg that a $1-million price tag in 10 years’ time is reasonable.
Research from the company he runs is perhaps a little more realistic. Kraken’s latest analysis suggests Bitcoin could next top out somewhere between $75,000 and $306,000.
FUD of the Week
BitMEX’s Arthur Hayes and Ben Delo negotiate surrender to U.S. authorities
The former CEO of the crypto derivatives exchange BitMEX is in negotiations to surrender to U.S. authorities next month.
Arthur Hayes and fellow executives are accused of violating the Bank Secrecy Act by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Transcripts from a virtual court hearing suggest he’s going to surrender to the U.S. in Hawaii on April 6 — six months after he went on the run.
McAfee faces crypto-related fraud charges from NY court
Criminal charges are piling up for John McAfee. The crypto advocate and internet security pioneer has now been accused of fraud and money laundering conspiracy crimes. Allegations relate two schemes where cryptocurrencies were “fraudulently promoted” to investors.
Prior to today’s news, McAfee already faced charges from U.S. governing bodies for tax evasion and initial coin offerings that he allegedly advertised for compensation without properly informing the public.
After going on the run from the U.S. government in 2019, McAfee was arrested in Spain in October 2020.
Dev says $31 million Meerkat Finance exploit was a “test” and funds will be returned
Alarm bells rang this week when Meerkat Finance, a decentralized finance protocol based on Binance Smart Chain, lost BNB worth $31 million — hours after it had launched.
The team initially claimed it had been the victim of an exploit but then deleted all its social media channels. Due to the nature of the breach, some believe that a “rugpull” scam had taken place.
But there might be some good news on the horizon for the victims of the exploit, which is one of the largest in DeFi’s short history. A Meerkat Finance developer posted in a newly created Telegram channel and revealed the exploit was a “trial” testing users’ greed and “subjectivity” — adding that the team was preparing to refund all victims.
Best Cointelegraph Features
DeFi who? NFTs are the new hot stars on the crypto block
NFTs are taking over from where DeFi left off, and data suggests asset tokenization will dominate 2021.
Crypto Pepes: What does the frog meme?
Cointelegraph Magazine talks to BarnBridge founder Tyler Ward, who has inadvertently created a Pepe the Frog NFT meme craze.
Pricing the hype: Crypto companies valued at billions as market booms
Crunching the numbers: Analysts and industry experts weigh in on crypto firms like Coinbase and Kraken being valued in the billions.
What does the frog meme? – Cointelegraph Magazine
Cointelegraph By Andrew Fenton
When BarnBridge founder Tyler Ward decided to change his profile pic a few weeks ago, he inadvertently created a Pepe the Frog NFT meme craze embraced by celebrities and the DeFi community that was on track to reap more than $60 million in sales on the OpenSea auction platform.
Then the wheels fell off rather spectacularly. Magazine chats with Ward on Monday, Feb. 22, after the first 20 of 1,069 Non-Fungible Pepes were sold at an average price of $62,671 each, and he can’t quite believe it.
“We sold like $1.3M worth of Pepes, like 20 of them,” he says. “One of them went for $200,000!”
“All these celebrities have gotten involved — like Diplo, just signed up to be a part of the movement. Everyone in crypto is a part of it.”
“All the Defi protocol founders, even Vitalik’s dad, got behind it. Dillon Francis, he’s a pretty famous musician in the US, he’s actually been going pretty hard on all of this stuff. I wasn’t expecting it. I mean, it’s truly blown up over the weekend.”
— dillonfrancis (@DillonFrancis) February 20, 2021
Origins lost in the mists of time
Way back on Feb. 12, Ward asked his in-house designer to knock up an image of sad-faced frog Pepe in the low-res style of CryptoPunks for use as his Twitter profile pic. Handed a few different examples, he sent them off to friends including Synthetix founder Kain Warwick and illustrator and art collector Tim Pang.
“Everybody’s just like ‘You gotta do this, this is really fun,’” he says. Of course, while Pepe is a beloved crypto meme, it’s also widely associated by “normies” with racism and sexism and the alt-right edgelords from the badlands of 4chan. This pisses Ward off.
“I mean we’re all pretty progressive. The Ethereum community is not alt right, but we very much have grown a fondness for this frog,” he says, adding: “The frog’s background was never alt right. We were using it in crypto way before the alt right was.”
In its OpenSea listing, the project said it was explicitly about trying to help rehabilitate the melancholy frog’s Nazi image:
“We are here to reclaim the humor of the meme through our shared love for NFTs and having some fun. If our Pepes are used for racism, bigotry, or anything terrible… we will shame you and Kek will have vengeance on your soul.”
Ward says he was inspired by Tyler Winklevoss’ idea that Bitcoin is actually a social network, inspiring millions to spread the gospel of Bitcoin by enabling them to share in its value.
“I thought: what is the best way you can get everybody to band around the idea that Pepe is not racist? If we mint a bunch of them and give them some degree of value, then people will want them for more than just a profile picture. It creates a digital scarcity and I think that as a result of that they’ll care about what they own and they’ll care about trying to clean up the image of what it represents. Let’s make the movement about taking Pepe back.”
Despite having zero marketing budget and no time to even set up a website, the NFT Pepes meme took off across social media, with 2,000 members pouring into the hastily thrown-together Discord channel and almost 5,000 following the new Twitter account.
“I started this as a joke. I was trying to change my Twitter profile picture. But that anti racism message really resonated because I’m not the only person in crypto apparently, who thought Pepe was cool, and thought it was messed up that we couldn’t use them because of racist people.”
There was just one slight problem: Ward was not aware that the meme frog even had a creator, or that artist Matt Furies’ life has been all but ruined by alt-right edgelords appropriating his frog, as outlined in the excellent new documentary Feels Good Man.
This became clear when Galaxy Digital’s Mike Novogratz tweeted about the insane $210,000 (110 ETH) price that one of the NFPs (PepeIsLyfe #38) went for, and the documentary makers pointed out that the “knock-off” Pepe had brought in almost as much as the film’s entire budget.
In case there was any doubt…not an official sanctioned Pepe.
It’s a rather absurd moment in time that a knock off jpg can sell for the cost of making an entire documentary about the actual meme. https://t.co/rUFFDweN3D
— Feels Good Man – the doco about that frog meme (@feelsgoodmandoc) February 22, 2021
The Non-Fungible Pepe Twitter account quickly posted it was halting all sales while the team frantically tried to get in touch with Furie to seek his blessing. That blessing was not forthcoming.
“I asked him if he wanted to be involved and he said ‘no I don’t and I also don’t want you using Pepe,’” Ward explains via WhatsApp earlier this week. “So instead of seeing how I could maximize profit and be a jerk, I refunded sales to people who felt slighted and I did what Matt asked me to do.” Within a few days, they’d refunded 80% of the $1.8 million worth of WETH taken in the auctions.
Ward believes that legally speaking, the project was on solid ground. “I don’t think Matt’s legal position is very sound but it came down to me respecting him as an artist and the hell Pepe has put him through and I don’t want to be a part of either ripping someone off even if it’s 2% their work what made this successful or 200%.”
“At the end of the day, the more I learned since starting this, that frog has made his life a living hell and had I known that starting this I wouldn’t have done it,” he admits. The project has since been transformed into Non-Fungible Universe, with 69 original characters and its own currency called KEK.
Pepe the Frog began life innocently enough in Furies’ 2005 comic book series “Boy’s Club” as a laid back frog with the catchphrase “feels good man.” Sure, there was psychedelia and drugs and stuff, but Pepe was a good guy, and Furie would post the comics to his MySpace page.
Memes featuring Pepe then became widespread on MySpace, Tumblr and 4chan. Over the next nine years, the frog’s popularity grew to the point where influencers were doing Pepe makeup videos and mainstream pop stars like Katy Perry and Nicky Minaj were tweeting out the meme.
According to The Daily Beast, in 2015, the anon army from one of 4chan’s more out there forums, /R9k/, decided to reclaim Pepe from the normies by pushing them away with a barrage of edgy Pepe memes featuring “ironic” racist, homophobic and antisemitic stuff. A member of the board tweeting as “JaredTSwift” told the news outlet: “We basically mixed Pepe in with Nazi propaganda, etc. We built that association.”
The joke became less and less ironic as Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency and Pepe became the house mascot of MAGA and white nationalists. Remember that whole “punch a nazi” meme? That began when alt-right figurehead Richard Spencer was punched in the face on camera while trying to explain the meaning of his Pepe badge. That same year, the Anti-Defamation League listed Pepe as a hate symbol, even though it explicitly pointed out:
“The majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be, non-bigoted.”
The ADL launched a #savepepe campaign with creator Matt Furie, who said: “As the creator of Pepe, I condemn the illegal and repulsive appropriations of the character by racist and fringe groups. The true nature of Pepe, as featured in my comic book, ‘Boys Club,’ celebrates peace, togetherness and fun. I aim to reclaim the rascally frog from the forces of hate.”
Rare Pepes were the original NFTs
4chan also had a hand in how Rare Pepes, essentially the original NFTs, came about. They trace their origins to a 2015 inside joke about an autistic kid who would exchange Good Boy Points for chicken tendies. Then people started exchanging Rare Pepes for tendies, which led to the idea that Rare Pepes had value.
This inspired some people to create unique tokens on the Counterparty platform to represent ownership of Rare Pepe trading cards, which were traded for PepeCash. Interestingly, rules were brought in to ensure content was original and didn’t relate to alt-right, white supremacist or pro-Donald Trump content.
Pepe trading enthusiast Django Bates told the Daily Dot at the time: “Most of the community don’t think Pepe is an alt-right thing. Some (like me) think that we should Make Pepe Great Again and free him of that connotation.” He adds further: “Also, you have to be aware that Pepe as a symbol of hate and racism by alt-rights is a merely North American thing. The rest of the world does not see Pepe in that context.”
Rare Pepe Wallet was set up as a platform to trade the tokens, with the phenomenon culminating in a live auction in 2018 that saw a Homer Pepe sell for around $38,500 in Pepe Cash. In an interesting postscript, earlier this week on March 1, owner Peter Lamborghini resold it for 205 ETH, or almost $300,000.
In art news: The reputed “rarest pepe” sold for 205 ETH (approximately $295k USD) according to its owner. https://t.co/pQOvTOw6ZI
— Travis View (@travis_view) March 1, 2021
Chainlink frog army
The association of Chainlink, the ninth-largest cryptocurrency project, with Pepe is thanks to 4chan’s slightly less awful /Biz/ forum, which features a deep vein of dank meme-powered crypto shilling. It was here that a Q-style prophet/insider named Assblaster dropped hints and clues about LINK in the early days, claiming both that he was under an NDA and also dropping large amounts of free alpha about the project into the forum.
“When Chainlink started doing well it just became this cultish prophecy of 4chan, and 4chan really likes Pepe the frog so it was kind of this merger,” says Ward. “A lot of people that posted about Chainlink would post with Pepe the Frog and they kind of became intertwined.”
LINK Marine Albert Nazarov, who spends around four hours per day reading and tweeting about Chainlink, discovered the currency via 4chan.
“Things like racism and sexism etc are prevalent,” he concedes. “But ironically, 4chan is basically a crucible of raw thoughts, the best and balanced make it to the top. It’s almost anything goes there, and it trains the brain to decipher good info from bad stuff.”
Nazarov says that for a while there, Pepe was “bad for our optics,” so the community tried to distance itself by dressing up as “LINK gentlemen in suits etc.” However, Pepe just cuts through better.
“The main power of Pepe is relatability,” he says, pointing out that the character is humanoid enough to express emotion but cartoonish and abstract enough to make great memes. And great memes helped supercharge Chainlink.
“It no longer bears alt right connotations in my opinion,” he concludes, while pointing out further:
“Oracles and decentralised middleware is not sexy and it’s quite laborious to read about. Whilst a Pepe meme spreads the same message to a wider audience. It’s basically the distillation of knowledge into a relatable form. A five-year-old could understand LINK through a meme for example.”
Synthetix founder Kain Warwick — currently sporting a Non-Fungible Pepe profile pic — says he doesn’t detect any trace of alt-right thought among the frog army.
“They’re all Chainlink memes, they’re very Chainlink focused,” he says. “And I don’t think that there’s a particular sort of alt right bent to the Chainlink community. I just think that they’ve taken that meme as a funny meme.”
But he adds there had been a long debate in the Synthetix Discord about the use of Pepe on social media — about whether the crypto community has been able to reclaim the frog. And they’d come to the conclusion it has.
“I think there is a bit of co-option of those images and reusing them for crypto memes and personally I’m a fan of that. The Pepe meme was co-opted by the alt right so for it to be re co-opted by some other group and used in different contexts I think is a powerful way of undermining those sorts of things.”
Erik Voorhees – Cointelegraph Magazine
Cointelegraph By Andrew Fenton
“We felt like we were doing God’s work,” explains cryptocurrency payments pioneer Erik Voorhees as he recalls trying to convert the unbelievers in the early days of Bitcoin.
The man whose gambling platform SatoshiDice was once responsible for half of all Bitcoin transactions, is now an elder statesman of crypto and the CEO of the ShapeShift exchange.
He remembers Bitcoin being written off as a joke at the Money 2020 conference in Las Vegas back in 2012. At the time he was working for BitInstant, one of the first Bitcoin exchanges, and they had a booth right next door to PayPal.
“I remember the PayPal people nearby kind of snickering at us. A couple of them had maybe heard of Bitcoin. If they’d even heard about it, it was a total joke — a stupid scam on the internet, or something. It was a totally unproductive conference.”
History has not been kind to the snickerers and scam-sayers, many of whom have since been converted. In 2020, eight years after the conference, Paypal finally joined the fray, enabling users to buy and sell crypto, and it will soon add it as a method of payment at 29 million merchants.
Voorhees spread the gospel of Satoshi at the conference alongside Charlie Shrem and Roger Ver. Shrem was the founder of BitInstant, viewed by some as a martyr to the cause after serving two years in prison on a case related to an exchange user reselling Bitcoin on the darknet marketplace Silk Road. Ver was perhaps the biggest believer of all, earning the nickname ‘Bitcoin Jesus’ for his charismatic promotion of the currency.
“In terms of proselytizing, Roger was the absolute best. He was a total maniac about it” Voorhees recounts with a chuckle.
“Even for Charlie and I, who were very much supportive of the general sentiment, It was pretty overwhelming and just incessant.”
“Everyone that works at a startup feels a little bit like they’re changing the world, that they have this huge mission, and certainly every company tries to amplify that,” he says, being a CEO himself. But for Bitcoiners, Voorhees clarifies, “it is really a ‘change the world’ kind of thing, and to change the world on a fundamental level. It’s to change the institution of money itself — that is a profoundly tall order.”
Vorhees explains that he sees Bitcoin as nothing less than revolutionary:
“It’s not just a better user-interface for the money that people had before. It’s a different type of money that changes government, changes culture, changes social and economic relationships on a very very deep deep level. That’s why it’s taken so long to to catch on, to get recognized, because it is trying to move into such an entrenched institution.”
It’s 2012. @ErikVoorhees @rogerkver and I decided to pool our money together for the first #Money2020 event. We told them we wanted the best booth we could afford, but we needed to be next to the @PayPal booth so we can show the world OUR financial system!
Welcome, Paypal! pic.twitter.com/5BzvQDfvFb
— Charlie Shrem (@CharlieShrem) October 21, 2020
Now 35, Voorhees spent his early ‘90’s childhood in the mountains of Colorado before moving to the University of Puget Sound near Seattle in 2003. He studied international economics and business but doesn’t really feel like he learnt either.
“In the entire major of economics, though I had courses in the history of economic thought, I never learned about the Austrians,” he says, referring to the Austrian School of economics. Often ignored by mainstream Keynesian economists, Austrians are obsessed with things like hard money and decry unbacked fiat currencies so they have been embraced by gold-bugs and the Bitcoin community, which is after all, often called ‘digital gold’.
A freshly minted graduate in 2008, Voorhees left to pursue adventure in Dubai where “anyone with a college degree could immediately get a job, because they were growing so fast.”
Working as a marketer for a real estate agency, he watched from a distance as the world he thought he knew began to buckle under the weight of the unfolding Global Financial Crisis. Dubai did not feel its effects until half a year later, he recounts, describing the intervening time as “this very weird period where Dubai was going through this massive economic boom, and the rest of the Western world was falling apart.”
From this desert oasis spared from the global drought, the business and economics graduate “started really understanding money on what I felt was a very fundamental level.” For Voorhees, the story of money is a simple one: “money emerges as the good that is bartered for most frequently.” That used to be gold and is currently fiat money, but it could just as well be something else, if a more useful and efficient money was embraced.
Upon this realization, Voorhees took on a “very strong aversion to fiat currency and to government control of money” because as a believer in a market economy, he felt that no government should control the price or distribution of any goods. “Money was actually the most important good of all, and thus most important to not be centrally planned. And yet it was even in, you know, allegedly capitalist economies,” he says.
“A capitalist economy that has a government-managed money system seemed completely antithetical, but I didn’t have any answers or solutions to that other than some kind of return to the gold standard, which seemed somewhat anachronistic.”
Voorhees returned to Colorado after two years abroad, soon moving to New Hampshire to join The Free State Project, an organized political migration which he describes as “a multi-decade initiative to move 20,000 radical libertarians to one small jurisdiction [New Hampshire] to hopefully have an outsized influence on the political structure.” It was there, in the company of fellow radical libertarian political activists, that Voorhees encountered Bitcoin in 2011.
“At that point I got completely hooked, and a year later ended up leaving New Hampshire and moving to New York to join Charlie Shrem at BitInstant.” There, he took the reins of marketing as employee number three.
It was around that time that Charlie Shrem, Roger Ver, and Erik Voorhees — each of whom would go on to become crypto-luminaries in their own right — pooled their money together to set up a Bitcoin booth at the Money 2020 conference in Las Vegas. “We needed to be next to the PayPal booth so we can show the world OUR financial system,” Shrem recounted. Vorhees says they failed to convert anyone to Bitcoin at the conference despite their best efforts.
Belief in false profits
Vorhees admits he used to be a Bitcoin Maximalist, a believer in the one true coin who rejected all false currencies. “I used to be a maximalist. Obviously when I got into Bitcoin, it was kind of the only coin,” he says.
“As other coins came out I dismissed them, scoffed at them, and generally didn’t like them because I felt like they were a distraction from the important project.”
Though he tried to focus on Satoshi’s vision, the new projects started gnawing at him and he realized that many of them “were doing things that Bitcoin wouldn’t do or couldn’t do.” By mid 2014, his conversion was in full swing.
“My whole mindset began changing. One of the most important things about Bitcoin is that it is decentralised. And it seemed to me antithetical to have a decentralized digital economy where there is only one chain — you know, one code base, one chain, one set of economic rules. It seemed very appropriate that you would get multiple different digital assets, and that was actually part of the decentralization, part of the virtue of Bitcoin was that Bitcoin isn’t the only thing there.”
He tempers this by adding the usual provisos — most tokens are garbage, many are scams, a majority will fail. “It’s only a minority of them that are interesting, but a minority is a lot more than one.”
ETH Folks… try not to become to Binancechain what the Bitcoin Maxis are to Ethereum 🙏
— Erik Voorhees (@ErikVoorhees) February 19, 2021
He still has empathy for his “shortsighted” maximalist peers, who he sees as victims of human nature’s tendency toward tribalism, which expresses itself in lots of ways, “Certainly it expresses itself in religion. And it has expressed itself in crypto, and some portion of people- their mind twists itself into complete advocacy of one flag and complete derision of all others.”
“[It’s] a group psychological phenomena and I don’t know how that stops, but I do think it is really harmful for the growth of decentralized digital finance generally.”
Gambling with Satoshi’s dice
Only a year after learning about Bitcoin, Voorhees launched Bitcoin-based gambling site SatoshiDice in 2012, which took the young crypto community by storm.
“On Reddit, this guy posted that he had created this casino-like mechanism where there’d be this dice roll, and based on the dice roll, a user would either get their coins sent back or lose them. I tried it, and there was magic in it immediately […] So I started working with him.”
This was groundbreaking because “it allowed any person in the world to place a bet by sending a Bitcoin transaction” no matter where they were from or how their local laws governed online gambling.
What’s more, the player did not need to trust SatoshiDice, because “it was provably fair,” meaning that it worked like a transparent machine where all odds and inner workings were open for anyone to inspect. Governments around the world have various commissions to regulate and audit gambling operations, but SatoshiDice’s function potentially made such organizations obsolete, powerless, or both.
“SatoshiDice showed you what the odds were. It was transparent with the odds, and you could prove that the rules were fair.”
The simple, trusted, and permissionless nature of SatoshiDice brought huge success to the platform. Within months of launch, the game was responsible for as much as half of all Bitcoin transactions.
SatoshiDice had an unofficial IPO on the MPEx exchange, a sort of Bitcoin stock market where unregistered Bitcoin companies offered shares and paid dividends denominated in BTC. These were the forerunner of the ICO boom several years later, and attracted similar attention from authorities for breaking securities laws.
Though the casino was “making a tonne of money,” it was also overwhelming as Voorhees felt his job of “running the world’s biggest Bitcoin casino” was distracting him from his greater calling of preaching the good word of Satoshi. Despite ongoing growth, he reluctantly sold the business in 2013 for 126,315 BTC which was then worth $12 million. That would be a cool $6.25 billion today.
Fighting the system
Voorhees did not enjoy calm for long, as the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) soon came after him for making a public offering of unregistered securities. Voorhees considered this unfair, seeing that his investors had made exponential returns. He ended up settling for $50,000.
“That was nine months of total misery, dealing with them. If I didn’t despise the government before, I certainly did it after that. It was such bullshit.”
A core value of his is that people should be free to transact with each other voluntarily, and that no government agency has the right to come in between them. In his worldview, “institutions and government exist purely to curtail people’s power over money,” whereas “crypto gives people total economic power to make transactions in any way they wish, and no one can stop it.” As Voorhees sees it, these two forces will inevitably clash.
Voorhees’ company Shapeshift allows users to trade cryptocurrencies without identity verification. Things were not always that way — in 2018 Voorhees says his company fell under the same rules as traditional banks and therefore had to implement Know Your Customer, or KYC, identity verification procedures, making anonymous transactions impossible. “That was absolutely miserable. Our customers hated it. I hated it.”
But by 2020, decentralized exchanges (DEX’s) which allow users to trade without depositing their funds with a third party were gaining ground and made it possible for Shapeshift to reorient its business and re-align with its libertarian values. All KYC was abandoned, and the platform became a gateway for users to trade on various DEX’s. “I had learned with Satoshi Dice that an economic relationship didn’t need anything other than a public key to send in a transaction, and anything else could be based around that,” he says.
Voorhees says that his opposition to KYC is not down to ideology but his desire to protect users against things like identity theft.
“Identity theft in the US alone is something like a $30B to $40 billion a year problem. It is more costly than all forms of property theft combined. It’s this massive thing, and crypto comes along and solves that problem.”
But how committed is he to this principle? Would he class it as theft if a government accessed user data to tax a client’s unreported financial transactions. “Yeah, exactly. Taxation is absolutely theft,” he responds with blunt matter-of-factness.
The WSJ investigates
ShapeShift’s ethos has proven controversial among adherents to the rules and regulations around traditional finance. An investigation by the Wall Street Journal alleged Shapeshift users had laundered $9 million via the platform. However a third-party analysis by blockchain intelligence firm CipherBlade suggested the investigation was flawed in assuming that funds were illicit even after passing through four different hands, causing the $9 million figure to be inflated by a factor of four. It is clear that Voorhees, who is normally calm and composed, was deeply affected by this.
“Here’s The Wall Street Journal coming after us, calling us the money launderer, when their own inflated number would put us as far better [at combating money laundering] than any of the major banks that they write about all the time.”
There’s a noticeable quaver in his voice. The battle is personal.
We spend the last minutes comparing attitudes toward money in different societies. In the Nordic countries for example, all taxes are a matter of public record. Voorhees finds this disturbing, adding that “a lot of people with money feel guilty about it” whereas creating wealth in an ethical way he believes is a good thing for society.
“I would like to see people who become very wealthy, first of all be proud of that, so long as they did it in an ethical way, and to use those resources in whatever way they think is best. I think that’s how that’s how economies grow and I think there’s nothing wrong with that.”
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