The Ravencoin Report $RVN
A Cypherpunk Platform for the Decentralized Asset Market
- Website: https://ravencoin.org/
- White paper: https://ravencoin.org/Ravencoin.pdf (Ravencoin); https://ravencoin.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/X16R-Whitepaper.pdf (X16R Algorithm)
- Working Product: The X16R Algo is working and Ravencoin started the genesis block on January 3, 2018 (the anniversary of the launch of Bitcoin in 2009).
- Roadmap: https://github.com/RavenProject/Ravencoin/tree/masterhah /roadmap (The asset support development is currently in progress together with the storage of metadata, followed by the rewards system that will allow the payment in RVN to holders of an asset, the creation of unique assets on Ravencoin, a messaging service to token holders and a voting functionality.)
Technicals (as of 07/15/2018):
- Market Cap: ~$17,000,000
- Total Supply: 21,000,000,000 RVN
- Circulating Supply: ~1,230,640,000 RVN
- Today’s price: 0.00000225 BTC / $0.014
- ERC20?: No, Ravencoin is a code fork of Bitcoin and an open source Proof of Work project without premine that is being mined since January 3, 2018.
- Mining algorithm: X16R
- Block reward: 5,000 RVN
- Block time: 1 minute
- Blocksize: 1MB
- “Satoshi Nakamoto described Bitcoin as an implementation of Wei Dai’s bmoney, designed to afford users more control, security, and privacy than more centralized systems. A design with the potential to prevent violence and discrimination, given the holder of Bitcoin remains private. Ravencoin aims to continue this implementation by focusing on assets other than cash, providing a platform that users can easily issue assets they control under the rules they establish on a secure blockchain. […] The solution is to create a Bitcoin-like system that is fully asset aware.”¹
- Cypherpunks write code. We know that someone has to write software to defend privacy, and since we can’t get privacy unless we all do, we’re going to write it. We publish our code so that our fellow Cypherpunks may practice and play with it. Our code is free for all to use, worldwide. We don’t much care if you don’t approve of the software we write. We know that software can’t be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can’t be shut down.”² Eric Hughes, Cypherpunk Manifesto
In times of overpriced ICO evaluations, centralized governance models, scammy premine masternode coins and ASIC miners bringing consensus models to their knees, one could argue that Ravencoin is a quintessential representation of the cypherpunk ethos that lies at the heart of the first wave of cryptocurrency experimentation and expansion. There was no ICO done for RVN. The original circle of developers did not premine it. It is a Proof-of-Work network that is open source and aspires to be truly decentralized. It is an idea expressed in a whitepaper and translated to code. Ravencoin does not plan for masternodes or staking and as a code fork of Bitcoin, it relies on the sturdiness of a network architecture that has been tested and proven for more than nine years. Lastly, Ravencoin’s innovative X16R algorithm is designed in a way that makes mining it with specialized chips (application-specific integrated circuits, or ASICs) especially difficult, hence setting the network up to stay decentralized in the future.
Ravencoin is not a cryptocurrency devoted to the transfer of value in form of money like Bitcoin is. What we are looking at here is a protocol allowing for the issuance of tokens that are a digital representation of assets. There are no smart contracts involved in this process like you would see on chains like Ethereum. In fact, the process resembles second layer solutions for Bitcoin like Omni (the former Mastercoin) or Counterparty. Unlike Bitcoin however, Ravencoin is integrating this functionality directly into its protocol. While Bitcoin was not built for the recording and timestamping of asset transfers (it is possible to use it that way but there is a danger of losing the information with certain kinds of transactions), Ravencoin is designed with this use-case in mind and realizes it in a very elegant and focused fashion.
Security Tokens — On the Edge of Innovation
Cryptocurrencies are a relatively new asset class, and as such, the developments in the space are fast, impactful, and come without warning. Around this time last year, everyone and their mother was talking about utility tokens, through which startups are able to generate large amounts of capital in exchange for future access to their product or service. Security tokens, on the other hand, are tokens which are backed by real assets, say, equity, or a share in a company. Legally speaking, Security Tokens are forms of securities and are therefore subject to the regulations governing traditional securities in the investment space. So, in a more detailed sense, what is a tokenized security? Why could an investment in security tokens prove to be more lucrative and reliable than one in utility tokens? What are the implications for the crypto space? Why should you care?
As aforementioned, one major subcategory of security tokens is comparable to shares in a company on the stock market. Investors buy tokens on an exchange, in anticipation of future revenues increasing the value of the company and/or dividends being paid out when sufficient revenues are achieved. Regulatory bodies determine whether or not a cryptocurrency token represents a security through the Howey Test⁴, derived from a court ruling in 1946, which asks a handful of questions: is there an investment of money? Is there an expectation of profits from the investment? Is the money invested into a common enterprise? Are the profits resulting from the efforts of a third party? If the answer to all of these questions is yes, you are looking at a security, and that has regulatory implications for the issuing company, which has to comply like any traditional share-issuing company.
For investors, this represents a new way of navigating the crypto space: Buying a token no longer implies having access to a future service, whereby one uses the token to access the platform of the issuing company. Buying a token can simply imply making a savvy business investment, with expected profits, just like on the traditional stock market. This development certainly represents a disruption with respect to the current scheme and should be welcomed by the crypto space, as security tokens offer advantages over utility tokens, for both issuers and investors. Utility tokens⁵ are still technically exempt from securities laws. However,the SEC has made it clear that certain utility tokens may eventually be classified as security tokens. This is best exemplified by the ongoing dispute with Ripple regarding their XRP token.
In addition, under the regulatory framework it is actually easier for issuing companies to release security tokens than utility tokens through an ICO, despite the implications of liquidity, limited access to investors, etc. Startups would simply avoid future legal troubles (and costs) by issuing tokenized securities, avoiding the murky waters, and making life easier for everyone. Most people in crypto are of the impression that issuing securities has to be incredibly difficult in the United States because so many startups took a shortcut and avoided it. In reality, since the “Jumpstart Our Business Startups” (JOBS) Act from 2012 that included an exemption to allow a form of equity crowdfunding, offering securities is a relatively simple and straight-forward process.⁶
The growing popularity of security tokens is also a normal development in a growing asset class like cryptocurrency; it’s a significant improvement over its predecessor, and is also a response to regulatory uncertainty posed by officials who don’t understand the crypto space. Security tokens are like a way of saying, “if you don’t let us play our game, we’ll beat you at yours”. The growth of this new form of investments also adds legitimacy to the growing crypto space, and may serve to attract outside investors who aren’t necessarily keen on the traditional purchasing of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum.
Security tokens represent a familiar friend from the financial world, merged with the technological improvements and higher future potential of cryptocurrencies. The development of decentralized exchanges, or DEXes, which in the future may be combined with digital wallets, would provide total financial independence and sovereignty to anyone with a mobile device and access to a network. The decentralization would also aid investors by avoiding high brokerage fees; this, in combination with the ability to invest in fractions of cryptocurrencies (impossible with fiat currency and traditional stocks), opens the financial world to billions of people in developing nations. Security tokens are a major step in the democratization of global finance.
As you may have noticed, Bitcoin has been declared dead once again. Since its inception in 2009, Bitcoin has “died” several times already, and today the crypto space has reached a period of despair, angst, and uncertainty once again. All jokes aside, while it is already widely acknowledged that crypto is here to stay, traditional cryptocurrencies have taken a serious hit in valuation this year. For investors looking to enter the crypto space, or existing crypto investors who want to divest from traditional cryptocurrencies and diversify, security tokens represent a very enticing opportunity. There is far less speculation involved in investing in security tokens; research in a company’s value proposition, whitepapers, roadmaps, and conferences all serve to properly educate investors sufficiently to make a decision as to whether a security issuing startup has the potential to sustainably grow in the future, even in the midst of a volatile general market. One can’t say the same for established cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, where far more intuition, experience, and technical analysis are needed to determine whether the present is a good time to buy, sell, or hold. Security tokens represent a step up from utility tokens, especially with the current state of platforms that are not scaling well enough for most of the utility tokens out there to have any actual utility. Many investors have been buying utility tokens as a sideways means to have a stake in these future companies and many utility tokens will eventually fail. Tokenized securities are going to help the space grow and attract more investors. They will serve as a reminder to naysayers that the crypto space is becoming more versatile, more organized, and more ambitious.
Now, it is important to note that while Ravencoin is designed for the offering and transfers of securities, RVN itself can not be considered a security. This has been discussed in depth by Douglas J. Pepe, a partner with Joseph Hage Aaronson LLC in New York, who is also a member of the Ravencoin community. According to Pepe’s analysis, not only does RVN pass the aforementioned Howey test, it also holds up against a set of six illustrative questions brought forward by the Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporate Finance, William Hinman, in a very recent speech on June 14. Pepe comes to the conclusion, that “Ravencoin is a community-based protocol consisting of code and users. No person or entity controls, promotes or markets it. It was created without any fundraising, premine or ICO. RVN purchasers do not invest in an enterprise; they acquire RVN so they, or someone in the future, can use it to create blockchain assets. It is a direct fork of the Bitcoin codebase and is modeled after Bitcoin, which SEC representatives have made clear does not meet the Howey test. RVN bears none of the hallmark’s of a security.”⁷ This is especially significant as the majority of utility tokens on coinmarketcap will struggle to pass these tests and therefore will encounter turbulent times when it comes to their listings on exchanges in the United States or on those that have close business relations to the United States. Ravencoin is a project conceived in the United States and was obviously designed in a way to make it easy to comply with the regulations in place.
The Ravencoin community can answer to the SEC so confidently for two reasons: The chain is built on a proof-of-work consensus mechanism and it has been launched in the most egalitarian and fair way possible. The project was announced on October 31, 2017 and spokespeople of the community presented it on social media and on several conferences before mining started in January of 2018. While only about 70 miners were mining blocks in the beginning, after the first week that number had increased to more than 4,500. Never did a single entity exceed 15% of the hashpower in these early days. With 1.32 Th/s currently devoted to the network, Ravencoin sits at about 1/10th of what we see on, for example, Ethereum Classic.⁸ That’s a very healthy number for a coin ranked 315 on coinmarketcap. One could even say it is astonishing, especially since the price in USD has been hovering around all time low for some time already. Larger mining pools like Nicehash⁹ have recently added the X16R algorithm to their portfolio. But why, apart from the future use-case, are miners so enthusiastic about this project?
One of the key parts of the vision behind the project is its egalitarian philosophy. Not only the launch of the project but also the continuing distribution of RVN is supposed to be as fair as possible. Preventing mining from being dominated by huge operations that rely on ASICs is a major challenge in that regard. Ravencoin offers a very clever solution to the ASIC-resistance problem where “there is not only consensus of the hash of the block but also consensus of what Proof of Work to use for the next block.”¹⁰ Developer Tron Black tells the story of how they came up with this model in an interview with Seeking Alpha: “One idea, which was great, but technically unfeasible was to change the algorithm every few months. The danger is that when the algorithm switches, it goes to an algorithm with fewer miners, or too many miners making it difficult to keep the difficulty in a reasonable range to have a reliable block time. While eating dinner before a Bitcoin meetup that gathers at Peace Coliseum, Joel and I were trying to reconcile these issues when we came up with a solution which uses the information from the previous block, and is random enough to make it challenging for custom circuitry. Since none of the algorithms are particularly difficult to implement in silicon, and a silicon controller could be written to use the previous hash to determine the sequence, the algorithm is tricky, but not impossible to make into an ASIC.”¹¹
While full ASIC-resistance is not possible and resistance has to be seen as a spectrum as ASICs can also be built on a spectrum from “most efficient” to “most flexible”¹², Ravencoin managed to come up with one of the most ASIC-resistant algos to date. Another advantage they have is that they are ready to adjust the algo should somebody come up with an ASIC for the X16R, therefore deterring actors who are thinking about going down that route further. After all, developing an ASIC is a considerable investment of time and money, even more so if you want it to be flexible.¹³ Still the ASIC game is being played by powerful actors who can offset their development costs by selling their units to the public and it is theoretically possible for them to react to hardforks within the span of six months. Ravencoin has a lot of flexibility here to give any ASIC-producer a good run for their money. According to the roadmap, they can cycle in or add other algorithms like Equihash, Ethhash or others to the X16R algo.
General Token Utility and Possible Types of Assets
Now that we presented the base for the system and discussed why it could prove to be much more stable and reliable than a) PoW chains that are less ASIC-resistant and b) many of the way less decentralized ICO-projects out there, it’s time to properly examine the use case that we think will play a major role in how the next wave of innovation in the blockchain industry will unfold.
Token issuers will be able to create representations of fungible, limited and unique assets on the Ravencoin chain. Its core feature is “the reporting of who owns what”¹⁴ and the transfer of control over an asset to someone else, with an asset being “just a limited quantity of a unique symbol, and transferable to any Ravencoin address”¹⁵. Ravencoin will allow for the creation of unique asset names which is not possible with smart contracts on Ethereum (demonstrated by the oftentimes confusing amount of copycat contracts in the Ethereum blockexplorer that you see for most altcoins). For an amount of 500 RVN, users will be able to issue a token and set the following variables:
After issuing such a token, it is possible to add “sub-tokens” to the tokens you created, which costs another 100 RVN that will be burned like the 500 RVN before. Developer Tron Black likes to use the example of a Lemonade stand, where one could offer LEMONADE tokens to sell shares in the business and pay out future dividends in RVN to holders of the LEMONADE token. A sub-token called LEMONADE/COUPON could be reated to promote the stand with coupons for a glass of lemonade.
Using this basic architecture and the option to create so-called “unique tokens” that we will discuss in more detail below, tokens can represent one of the following things and more:
- real world custodied physical assets like gold, land deeds or energy credits
- stock shares of a company, partnership interests, shares in a project that could be a co-op or a limited partnership
- crowd funded items that can be resold or transferred
- airline miles, reward points or digital gift cards
- pieces of art and proofs of authenticity
- virtual items or currencies in games that could also be transferred and traded outside of the game
- licenses and car registrations
- tickets to events
- the entry to an exclusive and spam-free messaging channel
Ravencoin aspires to be the preferred blockchain for the issuance and trading of tokenized securities and is taking the steps illustrated above to reach that goal: After the upcoming launch of phase 2 that enables the basic asset functionality (tokens as well as sub-tokens in phase 2b) and the inclusion of Metadata in the IPFS protocol (this means data will be stored off-chain but the entry can be hashed), Ravencoin will enable the paying of dividends to token holders in phase 3, which is essential for some of the use-cases discussed above. Phase 5 will bring the ability for token issuers to message stakeholders to set up a vote or update the holders on the state of their asset. An easy and convenient way of holding votes is coming with the final phase 6. We skipped phase 4 here because the unique tokens are something that needs to be explained in detail. The following use-cases of unique tokens are presented in the whitepaper:
- An Art dealer who would like to offer additional assurance to his buyers could come up with a token called ART. For distinct pieces of ART, he could then create unique tokens and name them ART:MonaLisa or ART:LaTrahisionDesImages as representations on the Ravencoin chain.
- Game developers could not only create a unique token to distribute individual licences for a game they made (for example TheWitcher:3849238 and TheWitcher:3849239) but also track the ownership of in-game items with a token like The_Witcher:WolfpackArmor008 or The_Witcher:SilverThongue481. These items could be tradable outside of the game.
- Auditing real world assets behind a tokenized security could be made easier by issuing individual tokens for every item backing the value of the security. An example for this would be a unique token called GOLDVAULT backed by bullion where every gold bar has its own serial number like GOLDVAULT:5848. A similar solution would work for car registration.
At this point, we are getting a more general sense of the use-cases possible for tokens issued on Raven. Any form of co-owned company or partnership could easily set up and handle their profit payouts by tokenizing the respective agreements. Co-ops that often have a complex underlying structure would have an easy time ascribing the proper rights and ownership to each participant. Partnerships and publicly traded companies alike could easily set up votes by creating addresses representing the possible options to chose from and issuing a VOTE token to every holder of their tokens. These tokens then can be sent to the address representing their choice.
Because the issuer of a token is able to determine the quantity of tokens issued, whether they will be allowed to issue more of the same token in the future, the number of decimal places, and if the token is supposed to be unique or not, Ravencoin will be easily customizable for all these use-cases and more that issuers will come up with in the future.
A Centralized Legacy System that shows its Age
Publicly traded companies and their investors can be expected to be open to innovation and creativity in order to circumvent a legacy system that is deeply flawed: Centralized settlement. Understanding how this system currently works means understanding how huge the financial market actually is that a project like Ravencoin is looking to disrupt.
Up until the 1960s, Wall Street relied on bike messengers to physically deliver papers and certificates between brokers after a trade was agreed upon. Few people know that volume on Wall Street quadrupled at that time and there actually was a 3-year period were the trading floor was only open every other day, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to allow the bicycle messengers to catch up on executed trades.¹⁶ This was when the SEC looked into several solutions to improve upon the old model. A proposal for a peer-to-peer settlement system by the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) got rejected mainly because the SEC was convinced that the technology needed to put a p2p-system in place was not available. Instead, they set course towards a centralized counterparty trading group through which trades clear and founded the Depository Trust Company (DTC) in 1973. Three years later, this was followed by the National Securities Clearing Corporation (NSCC). In 1996, Cede & Co. was created to act as a sort of vault underneath the DTC, maintaining custody of stock certificates.¹⁷ The DTC and the NSCC were combined into The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation (DTCC) shortly thereafter (1999), reaching the peak of centralization so far. Almost all securities transactions in the United States are being settled by the DTCC. The company has the legal ownership of basically all stocks in the United States (The investor is listed as beneficial owner while Cede & Co. is listed as the registered owner). In 2014, the financial service company cleared and settled $2.1 quadrillion of national and international financial market trades in equities, bonds and derivatives. These numbers show that the DTCC currently is the most important financial value processor worldwide.
Only a few dozen broker dealers can tap into the DTCC and trade share entitlements. A much larger amount of brokers then connects to the ones directly working with the DTCC. This makes the DTCC a single point of failure in a network that is processing gigantic chunks of the world’s financial value. At the peak of the financial crisis in 2008 in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse, this settlement system actually froze. Liquidity dried up and nobody was able to trade anymore.
The “Dole Problem”
A more recent incident revolving around shares of the company Dole Food makes it apparent that the current way of settlement even introduces severe complications under less critical market conditions. In the New York Times, Steven Davidoff Solomon who is a Professor at Berkley Law and one of the most respected experts on corporate law in the United States points out that “The share ownership system in the United States is fraying.”¹⁹ Deconstructing what has happened around a Delaware court case pertaining to a $1.2 billion buyout of Dole food in 2013, Davidoff Solomon warns that while the settlement system’s “shortcomings have been largely behind the scenes, now they are going to cost some innocent shareholders money.” After the settlement of the lawsuit, former Dale shareholders where supposed to receive $2.74 per share but some of them will not receive that sum. This happened because while 4,662 people and entities claimed (beneficial as explained above) ownership of 49,164,415 shares, Dole only had 36,793,758 shares outstanding.
This can happen due to standard procedures at the settlement company happening in the course of a merger, or for a much worse reason, as Davidoff Solomon explains: “Normally, when someone shorts shares, they borrow them and then sell them. When the short position is closed, the investor buys back the shares and restores them to their lender. [… In the case of Dole,] when short sellers borrowed shares they sold them to other shareholders in the market. Under the ruling, those third parties who unknowingly bought shares that were shorted will now not be paid. Instead, the holders of the shares that were lent out will be paid. Those who bought shorted shares will be left to look to the shorters.” The judge was helpless in the face of this problem and noted that this issue is not limited to the case at hand but “endemic to the depository system and hence likely [to] infect every claims process.” So apparently, the legacy markets suffer from Blockchain’s worst nightmare: Double-spending attacks. Davidoff Solomon comes to the conclusion that the capital markets have become too complex for a centralized settlement system that has not seen considerable innovation over the past 40 years and that even tracking down the shorters that owe money would currently be almost impossible. While the Berkley Professor is skeptical about blockchain technology as a solution to this issue and thinks that maybe “some computing power” could fix it, it is obvious that the “Dole Problem” would not present itself on a DLT like Raven.
Blockchain has been hailed as a possible way out of this fragile and highly instable system by both cypherpunks and industry advocates alike. Bob Greifeld, CEO and Chairman of Nasdaq stepped forward in 2015 and commented on the issue: “Utilizing the blockchain is a natural digital evolution for managing physical securities. Once you cut the apron strings of need for the physical, the opportunities we can envision blockchain providing stand to benefit not only our clients, but the broader global capital markets.”²⁰ One year later he claimed that “Blockchain will bring levels of efficiency to the financial markets that we’ve never seen before,” while representatives from McKinsey & Co. joined the choir, stating that blockchain will “dramatically reshape the capital markets industry.”²¹
Raven can be considered the brainchild of Bruce Fenton and Tron Black; Bruce Fenton is the CEO of Chainstone Labs and Atlantic Financial, as well as a board member on the Bitcoin Foundation and Medici Ventures, the latter being his connection to Tron Black, the principal software developer at the firm. Medici Ventures is the blockchain-focused investment and development fund of Overstock.com. Fenton and Black co-authored the whitepaper for Raven. While it is not owned by Medici Ventures or any other entity, it is fair to say that members of the firm are responsible for establishing continuity and direction in Ravencoin’s development. During Raven’s first phase, development was carried out principally by Tron Black, Denny Becker, Tyler Perkins, Jonathan Dolan, and Tal Chrysostom. Black was the President and CEO of Blue Squirrel for over 17 years; many people may recognize them from their product, SQURL, an early internet search engine from the 1990s. He also recently (2013) filed a patent for a system to verify the authenticity of an individual or corporate cryptocurrency wallet address, which works through API. Becker worked as a software architect for Overstock.com for several years before moving within the company to Medici Ventures, where he has served as the principal engineer since 2017. Perkins also started at Overstock.com, achieving status as the principal software engineer, before moving to Medici under the same role, also in 2017. Dolan has a similar career path as an associate software developer.
The current team working on Raven has grown and built upon the Phase 1 team. Corbin Fox was a software contractor who worked as a senior software engineer at Wavelink, Icentris, and Vulpes Vitis before joining Medici Ventures as a senior developer. He is directly involved in another promising project under the direct ownership of the firm, tZero, working on fintech and blockchain development. Mark Ney was added recently by Medici Ventures, working as a senior software engineer, previously having worked at Rockwell Collins, a multinational company focused on aviation and IT services. Jeremy Anderson, a career software developer at Microsoft, should prove to be a useful asset in helping to build the Raven ecosystem. An interesting addition to the team has been Daben Steele, a social media and community manager hired by Medici, indicating that the firm is looking to gain exposure for their projects, including Raven. Since Phase 1, Medici Ventures has added senior developers, which serves to indicate that they are taking Ravencoin very seriously, further adding momentum to the ongoing development.
As there is no central entity representing or governing Ravencoin, there is nobody to engage in formal partnerships like the ones you are used to with the common ICO projects that currently (over)populate the crypto space. Nobody is “partnering” with Bitcoin either. Ravencoin is an open source project without centralized funding. But that does not mean that we cannot see infrastructure and support grow around an open source project. More than $30 million has been contributed to the development of Ravencoin worldwide. Patrick Byrne’s company Overstock has directly invested in it (according to their earnings report from March15, 2018, Overstock had bought 60 million rvn at a trading price of $0.03 at that point²²) and incentivizes their own developers at Medici Ventures to work on it, too (Patrick Byrne: “it’s not our coin it’s an open source project, of which we became quite enamored and we threw in several millions of dollars of developers to help it along and such, it’s a very interesting project, and that’s enough.”²³- Medici Ventures also is involved in the development of tZero, Factom and Bitsy).²⁴
Looking for attractive investments, we oftentimes try to follow and anticipate the moves that big money makes. On top of that, we try to closely monitor what smart people are talking about, who they talk to and what kind of projects and ventures they put their time and energy behind. Ravencoin is a case where a significant amount of money (considering how decentralized the project is) and knowledge as well as widely connected frontrunners of the crypto and blockchain industry meet:
- Patrick Byrne, who apart from his role as CEO of Overstock.com also acts as the Executive Chairman of the upcoming DLT-powered capital markets and securities trading platform tZero²⁵, is one of the most outspoken supporters of Ravencoin’s open source development. Byrne founded Overstock in 1999 and is one of the pioneers of e-commerce. His company started accepting Bitcoin as payment as early as January 2014 when no other large companies were ready to take that step. Byrne, who holds several degrees in philosophy and mathematic logic from Cambridge, Dartmouth and Stanford, has been openly opposed to the current Wall Street system for about two decades now and is very outspoken about his support of blockchain technology, cryptocurrency and Ravencoin in particular when he speaks at conferences and summits. He very recently visited Bermuda to sign an MOU with the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, David Burt, in order to establish Medici Ventures in the British overseas territory that is currently building the foundation to become one of the most important off-shore locations for crypto- and blockchain-related business.
- Another noticeable member of the Ravencoin community is Bruce Fenton who co-wrote the original whitepaper with developer Tron Black. Fenton served as Executive Director of the Bitcoin Foundation from April 2015 until June 2016 and continues to be a board member as mentioned in the team section. He is the Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer of Atlantic Financial²⁶ and has been working in finance for more than 23 years. Over the course of this time, Fenton has placed over $5 billion in investments and sourced over $100 million in capital for a major private investment fund. He acted as advisor for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is hosting the “Satoshi Roundtable”, an exclusive networking retreat, since January 2015. Fenton is one of the most outspoken advocates of tokenization and securities trading on DLT and is extremely well connected in the financial as well as in the crypto world. He has been an Angel investor in several Bitcoin-related companies such as Shapeshift and worked as an advisor for Factom among other projects. Recently, some members of the community got upset with Fenton, after he congratulated his colleagues at Blockstream on their new digital asset trading platform Liquid and later pointed out that he is still planning to issue a tokenized security on the Bitcoin blockchain as it still is the most secure blockchain out of them all. This however, does not mean that Fenton has stopped supporting Ravencoin. On the contrary, he seems very passionate about the project (after all he co-wrote the whitepaper), but he is also passionate about this whole space, including Bitcoin and projects that his peers and friends are working on. For him, Ravencoin is an experiment and an exciting adventure as much as it could be a major force of disruption.
Patrick Byrne’s securities trading platform Tzero deserves a special mention in this section as significant synergies between the two projects would be possible in the future. Tzero is a subsidiary of Patrick Byrne’s company Overstock.com that is currently in the private sale stage of its ICO. According to their short ICO-presentation²⁷, Tzero “owns two SEC registered and FINRA Member broker-dealers” and connects to over 125 broker dealers, thus laying the foundation to become the frontrunner platform for the secondary trading of crypto securities. Tzero will have its own ERC-20 tokens on the Ethereum blockchain that will function explicitly as a security handed out to qualified investors. It will pay dividends and feature the option of a token lock-up to increase these pay-outs over time.
We already know that Patrick Byrne is one of Ravencoin’s most outspoken supporters. Nonetheless, initially all overlaps between Raven and Tzero had been banned in the realm of speculation, but since April we could read comments in the Ravencoin community that hint at a change of heart: While Bruce Fenton keeps pointing out that Ravencoin is about “way more than a company and even way more than tokenized securities”, he also admits to the fact that “clearly raven is a natural fit for tZero and the projects are complimentary- it’s natural that the two fit together“.²⁸ He further expresses the hope that tZero lists Raven and goes even as far as suggesting it would be “very likely” that Raven’s asset layer will be used for security tokens that can trade on the exchange.
Ravencoin’s Potential Competitors
Before diving into a list of Raven’s potential competitors, one has to establish an important distinction between companies like Polymath and Raven, which are too often placed in the same basket. Polymath is a platform which aims to provide a means for blockchain companies to issue securitized tokens with smart contracts and protocols, serving to legally comply with regulatory standards for STOs (Security Token Offerings). For example, KYC/AML processes (verifying identities of potential buyers to ensure they hold the required accreditation status before allowing them to purchase tokenized securities) could be an important feature of the Polymath platform. Raven, on the other hand, is a platform providing an opportunity for people to create and transfer assets between each other on a p2p basis. In this sense, the two projects could be viewed as complementary, if at all, but not competition, because they fulfill two distinct functions. Polymath is concerned with securitization, issuance, and compliance, while Raven is concerned with efficient, decentralized asset transfer. The only point of overlap would be the tokenization of securities, although Raven provides the opportunity for issuers to create far more customizable tokens (volume, divisibility, worth, redeemability) than what we know so far from Polymath. On the list of credible competitors to Raven, we find ERC-721, ERC-884, Counterparty, Blockstream’s Liquid, StellarX, and SIX (Switzerland’s principal stock exchange).
- ERC-721²⁹, of course built on the Ethereum blockchain, is a protocol for transferring unique tokens without an equivalent value in currency, essentially contracts which derive value from their content. Because of this, ERC-721 tokens are useful for assigning ownership of something included in a contract, as well as transferring of such an ownership. This is the primary difference between Ravencoin and an ERC-721 token: Ravencoin has monetary value on the market and can be used as a reward or as a method to pay expenses on a network. ERC-721 tokens cannot fulfill these functions. They may be able to be used for information transfer, but certainly not for tokenizing items with monetary value, or as a dividend, a function which Ravencoin has boasted as being able to provide.
- ERC-884 made the news when the Delaware state legislature amended corporate law to allow for distributed ledger technology to be used to issue and transfer shares. As Forbes describes it, “Each of these tokens represent a single unnumbered share. Issuers maintain a private database (off the blockchain) that records the name and physical address of the token’s owner as well as the Ethereum address corresponding to the token. Token owners are whitelisted and have their identity verified. Shareholders who lose their private key, or otherwise lose access to their tokens, can cancel their tokens and have them reissued. Thus, although the ERC-884 is designed to transfer shares of stock, the share ownership information is captured in an off-chain database”³⁰ This is a relatively new protocol with few, if any, use cases and little information available online. Based on basic knowledge, one of the primary differences would be the inherent privacy and security of the Raven blockchain, which stands in contrast to the proposition of keeping stock transfer information on the Ethereum blockchain while having shareholder information off the chain, as espoused in the Delaware law.
- Counterparty is a Bitcoin-based platform which enables token creation, crowdfunding, dividends, and transfer. This is perhaps the most similar project to Ravencoin, and its primary difference is that it is a second layer solution built upon the Bitcoin blockchain, whereas Raven is its own blockchain. One can also make the argument that since the Raven chain was created specifically to handle asset transfer, while Bitcoin and Ethereum were not, it is likely that the Raven blockchain will be more efficient. On the other hand, fulfilling the functions presented by Raven on the bigger and up until this point more secure Bitcoin blockchain makes Counterparty a significant and dangerous competitor. Both views are credible, and even Bruce Fenton himself mentioned in a Reddit thread³¹ that Raven is similar and was partly inspired by projects like Counterparty.
- Liquid is essentially a Bitcoin sidechain project conducted by Blockstream, and serves as a serious competitor to Raven, too. Initially, Liquid will support only Bitcoin on the platform, although multi-asset capabilities broaden the scope of this company’s future. As stated on Blockstream’s website, Liquid will be able to support “other cryptocurrencies or assets issued by participants”³². This means that the possibilities presented by Raven, including both asset transfer and tokenization of assets, are also fulfilled by Liquid, on top of the most adopted blockchain there is. Although Bruce Fenton has claimed that Liquid is not a direct competitor to Raven, primarily due to how the projects are managed in terms of investment and development, one can see why the question is raised³³. In addition, Liquid may enjoy faster adoption due to its proposition of enhancing and speeding up bitcoin transactions between exchanges, which in combination with the ability to expand into multi-asset issuance and transfer, makes Blockstream’s product a formidable competitor.
- StellarX is a trading application built on the much acclaimed Stellar blockchain. The appeal of the application is the ease with which currencies and financial instruments can be exchanged for one another, all within a digital wallet on a decentralized exchange with no network fees. In addition, according to the co-founder of StellarX, “you can digitize any off-chain asset — pork futures or Zcash or SkyMiles or USD or whatever — and the protocol itself will handle redemption and compliance. Stellar therefore unifies disjoint economies (and blockchains) into a single market.”³⁴ This is similar to the appeal of Raven, through which practically anything can be tokenized and transferred. In addition, the Stellar blockchain is ASIC resistant, another element which factors into the appeal of Raven. However, the StellarX coin would be Stellar, the coin of the Stellar blockchain; the coin itself does not have the functions that Ravencoin possesses, such as messaging, voting mechanism, dividend payments, and securitization. So in theory, assets can be digitally securitized on the Stellar blockchain and traded on StellarX, but the application acts as a medium in this use case, rather than a true facilitator like Raven.
- In July 2018, SIX announced it would open a cryptocurrency exchange on distributed ledger technology in 2019, fully regulated by Swiss authorities.³⁵ This, while associated with tokenized securities and the potential to bring them into the mainstream, bears little to no association with Ravencoin, and it is once again important to make a distinction. It is a common misconception to conflate Ravencoin and similar projects with anything that has to do with tokenized securities (ie, Polymath, mentioned above). Platforms like SIX are just that, platforms, to exchange cryptocurrencies and tokenized securities on a decentralized ledger. The blockchain will have a token, but it won’t fulfill any of the functions that Ravencoin does.
- Harbor is a very new company focused on the tokenization of private securities through their R-token protocol. The most prominent example of a private security which could be disrupted by this technology is real estate, although other assets such as pieces of fine arts could also logically be put on this platform. Essentially, the R-token representing asset ownership interacts with several mechanisms which determine KYC/AML information relevant to the involved parties in a transaction, as well as other pertinent information such as taxes.³⁶ Traditionally this process takes ages to complete, which is why private securities are often very illiquid; Harbor’s product could change that. The company hasn’t done an ICO and has no plans to do so, as it has raised over $40m in two rounds of funding.³⁷ While Harbor does have the potential to disrupt this market, their R-token hasn’t gone live yet, and there are several differences between this token and Ravencoin. Ravencoin seems to be much more flexible in which assets it can securitize, and has the power to send messages and pay dividends, which the R-token does not (based on the available information). In addition, the R-token is an ERC-20 token and must be traded on the Ethereum blockchain, whereas Raven has constructed its own blockchain. In general, Harbor is more focused on streamlining compliance in a heavily regulated market, while Raven is more focused on enabling the tokenization of any asset and subsequent safe and fast transfer of this token between people. (You can find out more about Harbor in our dedicated assessment here: https://medium.com/@aseriousman/r-token-harbor-assessment-d6e932ddac0b.)
- Ravencoin being a code-fork of Bitcoin brings several advantages: A technology that has been tested and proven for 9 years and tons of second layer development that can easily be integrated if needed. The innovative X16R algorithm sets it apart from Bitcoin and could set Ravencoin up for a much more decentralized network in the future. While the Bitcoin chain assembles the highest hash power, this stems from giant ASIC farms that put Bitcoin at risk of centralization. Its full node count is decreasing. If Ravencoin manages to stay sufficiently ASIC-resistant due to the nature of its algorithm and future adjustments that are easily implemented, it could stay ahead in the mining turf war.
- With the Bitmain Z9 ASIC miner for Zcash and Equihash shipping, we can expect GPU-miners to switch to ASIC-resistant alternatives. Gathering sentiment on Twitter, Raven with its X16R algorithm seems to be high up on the lists of alternatives. The resulting jump in hashrate would strengthen the network and put more eyes on Ravencoin. Difficulty would increase which would set the break-even level in USD higher for miners, discouraging selling below that.
- It will be relatively easy to adapt second layer solutions from Bitcoin (Lightning Network, RSK and more) to Raven due to the close relationship of their code bases.
- Ravencoin is a true throwback to the early days of cryptocurrency in terms of fairness and sustainability. It is picking up on the idea that is Bitcoin and adapts it to a novel and promising use-case. This happens in an environment where many of the “next gen” platforms have been adopting models that promote value dilution. They are busy introducing yet another and another token, sometimes through airdrops, more often than not through ICOs on top of ICOs, collecting even more money from investors to fuel their sidechains or pay for a dApp service that is supposed to be essential to their ecosystems. What we see here is a step by step dilution of the value of the respective mainnet tokens, begging the question of what kind of transactions will be left that grant these tokens any utility at the end of the day. On top of that, more and more cases of centralization surface now that some of the next gen platforms have started to launch their mainnets. In principle, we see use cases for private chains and proprietary chains, especially in hybrid setups connected by interoperability protocols. Projects that claim to be public chains and still try to centralize with wonky consensus mechanisms and backdoored software are a different story. Inherent to its nature as a PoW network, this will not happen on Ravencoin. It is clear how the network will process transactions and achieve consensus. Raven also has a concise use-case: prove ownership and move ownership of tokenized assets on the blockchain. The new tokens that users can introduce on raven will be exclusively tokenized assets and securities and won’t interfere with RVN’s value.
- As presented above, offering securities is much easier than most people in crypto believe at this point. The way ICOs have avoided the issue makes it seem like it would be a big deal to comply with regulations. With the JOBS Act in place and many interest groups pushing for further regulation, we are positive that we will start seeing a wave of tokenized securities hitting the market in the not so distant future.
- The fact that Ravencoin might interact closely with Overstock.com’s Tzero in the future could prove to be a major driver for adaption of the securities protocol.
- As presented above, there is a significant number of other projects and companies trying to shape and develop the evolving digital securitization market. Our list does not claim to be comprehensive so expect there to be more (we haven’t looked in details at projects such as Harbor and DigitalAssets yet for exemple). Everybody will try and get a piece of the pie, but that does not have to spell disaster for Ravencoin as we have shown that the technology and applications in question are nuanced. It is important to understand that Ravencoin fulfills functions that other projects simply do not at this given point in time, and one must understand these underlying differences when assigning value to projects like Raven. At the end of the day, this is a multi trillion dollar industry and there is going to be more than a single project involved. Raven has competitors, and will gain more competitors with increasingly interesting and applicable value propositions, but there are plenty of reasons to believe Raven has the potential to be a leader in this new ecosystem due to the functions fulfilled by its coin and the concept behind the project.
- The inflation on RVN is considerable due to the low blocktime and the reward payout. 5% of the total supply has been issued so far and it will take 120 years until all coins are mined. Half of the RVN supply will be issued over the next 3.5 years, next ¼ over the course of the following 4 years (5000 RVN block reward, halvings every four years). If the platform finds adoption on a big scale, a considerable amount of coins could be deleted from the supply though as for every asset that somebody wants to create, 500 RVN will be burned. Such a dynamic could be amplified by practices resembling domain squatting but in this case with token names.
- As with many other platforms currently in development, scaling is an elephant in the room. Built as a Bitcoin code fork, Ravencoin would range at the lower end of what is currently possible in terms of transactions per second. The developers have stated that they are planning to cooperate with Bloxrout³⁸, a company that offers a solution to speed up block propagation which would greatly increase the trx/s possible compared to the usual UTXO coins. As stated in the previous section, the easy implementation of second layer solutions like Lightning Network would also present a way of dealing with this in the future. The intent to look for ways to scale that do not rely on second layer solutions, however, is very welcome.
- Despite the fact that the Ravencoin network has grown incredibly fast, it is still comparably small compared to an established platform like Ethereum (Not even half of a percent of the Ethereum Hashrate is being devoted to Ravencoin right now). If Ravencoin wants to find adoption, the community will have to grow by a significant amount and attract more miners to the project. So far, with the recent adoption by Nicehash among others, things are looking to be on track for a continuing healthy growth of the hashrate though.
- So far the development is under the direction of developers at Medici Ventures and only a few accounts are making commits in the Github. Some of the infrastructure around the core functionality has been built by coders outside of Medici Ventures. Commits on Github have been less regular than a good amount of members of the communty would prefer. There are bounties planned for developing second level integration like Lightning Network but so far they do not seem to have started. Reddit user T1Pimp makes a good case for the fact that it is not uncommon for successful open source development to be lead by a smaller core team and open up later on in a discussion about the state of development of Ravencoin: “Usually, in OSS the code can be seen. But it’s almost always a small group of people (usually paid by corporations; devs need to eat too) that do the bulk of the initial development (stage they’re in now), and then a small group that maintains it. Once it’s open more people contribute to bug fixes and things like that but it’s still a small core team that does the bulk of the work. Examples: Mozilla’s Firefox browser and the Apache HTTP Server were both developed by a small group of core contributors. While the population of contributors broadened with things like bug fixes, the central development work for these and virtually all other projects was done by a small group of core committers.”³⁹
- A common concern that gets brought up with blockchain technology is how to verify that the information that gets on the chain is actually the truth and not made up or manipulated. It would be the intuitive thing to be skeptical about this “onboarding”-process of information, too, when the representation of assets on a blockchain is concerned. This is not the focus of this project though and it should be clear at this point that replacing the centralized ledger tracking who owns what is a very important task at hand that also offers the potential of bringing over a massive amount of value to blockchain ecosystems.
Ravencoin ticks a lot of the boxes when it comes to potentially successful blockchain projects. It was launched in a fair fashion, works on a proven consensus mechanism, is built with ASIC-resistance, future security and sustainability in mind, has a highly focused and achievable use-case and targets a massive industry that is very much ripe for disruption. The team that is pushing this open source project forward is competent and does not lack the funding to follow through on the roadmap that is lying ahead.
While there is considerable competition in the field already, we should not forget that the legacy system that operates so inefficiently and insecurely at the moment represents the heart of global financialization. The traded value that could be tokenized does not range in the trillions but in the quadrillions. Ravencoin does not have to beat every other project out there. Some actors will naturally be more attracted to centralized service providers that offer asset tokenization and trading on a corporate private chain. Raven fills a very specific niche: It’s the most decentralized solution in sight so far (arguably more decentralized than second layer solutions on Bitcoin, too), and even if it won’t be able to take over the trading volume of the NYSE, its egalitarian philosophy is likely to attract partnerships, co-ops and other endeavors with an alternative mindset.
Even large-scale projects that rely on commons-based economic instruments, like for example Peter Barnes’ idea for a “Sky Trust”⁴⁰ to incentivize carbon emission reduction, would be a perfect fit for a value-network like Ravencoin. Barnes descibes the ideal system for a Sky Trust as “(1) economy-wide, (2) market-based, (3) simple, (4) gradual, and (5) equitable. As it turns out, the best way to meet these guidelines is to treat the atmosphere as a commons, held in trust by all current citizens for the benefit of themselves and all future citizens.”⁴¹ On Ravencoin it would be relatively easy to tokenize such a relationship and the features of a public blockchain (immutable, distributed, permissionless) would be very welcome for a re-distribution platform of this kind: Participating businesses would want the data to be transparent and available to show off their achievements and citizens would want to hold companies accountable and see a fair distribution of the benefits. Even if the Sky Trust example might prove to be a bit too large in scale, there are tons of others to be found in alternative economics models that focus on smaller scale systems.⁴²
How ASIC-resistant the X16R algorithm will continue to be is a question that is hard to answer at this point in time. What is obvious though is that the team is trying to be two steps ahead of the ASIC-producers and has precautionary measures in place. With Ravencoin potentially being more decentralized than Bitcoin in the future, we are reminded of Winston Churchill’s famous quote about democracy that might be “the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. This needs to be seen, but we can be cautiously optimistic. Ravencoin’s network growth has been among the fastest in cryptocurrency history, so if the project keeps up the pace, we could witness another success story built on the foundation of Bitcoin’s code and ethics, with some slight improvements here and there. Ravencoin’s current evaluation below $20 million might look like a mirage a few years from now.
For a miner, devoting some hashpower to the network might prove to be a wise decision looking back a year or two from now. As an investor that has no mining equipment at hand, the relatively high inflation on Raven makes it hard to find a good spot to buy in. Difficulty and the current cost of mining has to be taken into consideration and a slow accumulation involving dollar-cost-averaging in either direction might be a valid strategy. A possible migration from miners to Raven as Bitmain Z9 ASICs come online, as well as the upcoming asset launch on Ravencoin’s testnet are events to keep an eye on. As far as other future catalysts go, there are a few things to consider: Development for Ravencoin is open source, it is not likely that investors will see many partnership announcements on twitter (if any), like they are used to from more centralized projects. Also exchanges will have to choose to list it on their own terms as there is no entity behind Raven that would pay listing fees, although it is possible that the community could fund it with donations. It is likely however, that we will see more and more companies devote time and resources to Raven as development progresses and the project gains traction.
¹ Ravencoin whitepaper, p. 4 and p. 3.
⁶ For a quick overview of the changes to crowdfunding introduced by the JOBS Act: https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/12/what-regulation-crowdfunding-in-the-jobs-act-means-to-entrepreneurs-and-startups/?guccounter=1
⁷ Douglas J. Pepe, Is Ravencoin a Security? (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Se_GqusXcobgdVGwa8x55oQjJfTFHkHUQTxuqPcOmbA/edit)
¹⁰ As put very eloquently by Donald McIntyre, the founder of Etherplan in an interview with Bruce Fenton and Tron Black at 29:22 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMjph5Kzlvo
¹² For a deep dive into the “State of Cryptocurrency Mining” and the prevalence of ASIC miners, head over to this article by the Siacoin dev team: https://blog.sia.tech/the-state-of-cryptocurrency-mining-538004a37f9b?gi=cd7233a433a7
¹³ Ibid. “ Generally speaking, we don’t see products developed that fall anywhere between a GPU and a fully inflexible ASIC because typically by the time you’ve given up enough flexibility to move away from a GPU, you’ve only got a very specific application in mind and you are willing to sacrifice every last bit of flexibility to maximize performance. It’s also a lot less costly to design fully inflexible ASICs, which is another reason you don’t see too many things in the middle.”
¹⁴ Ravencoin whitepaper, p. 1.
¹⁵ Ibid., p. 3.
¹⁶ The following depiction draws from Patrick Byrne’s presentation at the Beyond Blocks Summit 2018 in Tokyo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZsyCulShcM).
²² You can find the Overstock earnings report here: http://investors.overstock.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=131091&p=irol-EventDetails&EventId=5267710
⁴⁰ Peter Barnes. Who owns the Sky? Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism, Island Press, Washington/Covelo/London: 2001.
⁴² For an overview on the debate around commons-based modes of production and distribution, see: https://www.boell.de/en/2015/11/04/wealth-commons-world-beyond-market-state. In crypto, we talk a lot about how the technology can disrupt markets and practices. This shows that there are also novel and disruptive ideas out there that could greatly benefit from blockchain technology but either sides are not familiar with each other.