Crypto, You’re No Dot-com Bubble

In July 2013, J.R. Willett launched the first Initial Coin Offering, or ICO, for Mastercoin. Willett’s novel fundraising method bypassed traditional venture capital fundraising by allowing people to send bitcoin to a wallet address in exchange for new tokens that represented ownership in the platform he was developing.

5 years later, ICOs have raised nearly $20 billion, with over 90% coming in the last year. To date, the ICO craze has been a hallmark of the cryptocurrency bubble. Nearly 80% of offerings were labeled scams by ICO advisory firm Satis Group, but that hasn’t unnerved investors. Surely, something in which investors lose their entire principal four out of five times can’t be an enduring model. Right?

Currently, it seems like every talking head, distinguished investor, or self-proclaimed thought leader has compared the current crypto market to the dot-com bubble of the 1990s. Sure, the anatomy of the markets are similar: speculation surrounding a new technology leads to sky-high valuations for companies. Crypto will likely follow the dot-com market that eventually crashed when its businesses didn’t meet the hype. But, I knew the dot-com bubble. The dot-com bubble was a friend of mine. Crypto, you’re no dot-com bubble.

Imagine if during the dot-com bubble, a person didn’t have to find a stock broker or register with regulatory agencies. Imagine if language and knowledge hurdles that existed between countries were eliminated, allowing anyone from any country to invest in Pets.com or Amazon with no added hassle. Finally, imagine if there was a global resource that made people more connected and knowledge more portable. In this scenario, the barriers to investing in stocks are a fraction of what they actually were. How many more people would’ve participated in the investing frenzy if this were the case?

Well, the answer is we’ll find out. Because that’s what is happening with cryptocurrencies right now. It takes a few minutes to sign up on an exchange, and you can start trading a couple days later after being verified. Exchanges exist in nearly every country in every language. In addition, any Internet user can learn about cryptocurrencies relatively easily. Social media has and will continue to exacerbate the hype around crypto. When more people participate in a speculative market, both the run up and the bubble burst become more severe.

We saw a small preview of the magnitude of the crypto bubble burst in the last few months. The total crypto market cap dropped from over $825 billion to under $250 billion — that’s around a 70% drop. (To be clear, this was not the bubble burst, though no one would blame you for thinking it was.) The largest drop in the NASDAQ, on which many tech stocks were listed, before the actual dot-com bubble burst was just over 25%, from $2,000 to $1,500 in 1998. If the dot-com bubble were a boat traveling through dark, stormy seas, the crypto bubble is a cruise ship headed right into a tsunami.

To be clear, our view is that while cryptocurrencies are in a bubble, they are not a fad. A bubble is necessary to build the infrastructure that will one day support an entirely new asset class, which will include the FAANGs of crypto, be they Bitcoin, Ethereum, or one that has not yet been created.