The prevailing wisdom for cryptocurrency founders is that you win through hype: talk like an infomercial, parade clownish speakers around conferences, and attack critics relentlessly for “spreading FUD.” That approach works; many aggressive entrants have muscled their way to the top of the charts with these tactics (you know who you are).
But there’s another approach that’s less talked about and just as widely employed, one that cryptocurrency founders and investors need to pay attention to: anti-hype.
Ethereum recently fell from second place to third place in market cap. That was big news, but outlets are covering it wrong. The story isn’t that Ripple beat Ethereum, it’s that Ethereum is playing the anti-hype game. It would be trivial for Ethereum to flex its muscle and rally past Ripple, perhaps even past Bitcoin itself. They power almost every cryptocurrency in the world and their founder, Vitalik Buterin, is the closest thing to a blockchain figurehead. But instead of talking up Ethereum on TV or making blustery statements about how Ethereum will disrupt this or that, Buterin calls token sales overvalued, lambasts bad actors, and makes statements like these:
*All* crypto communities, ethereum included, should heed these words of warning. Need to differentiate between getting hundreds of billions of dollars of digital paper wealth sloshing around and actually achieving something meaningful for society. https://t.co/aNpEnBNGsA
— Vitalik Buterin (@VitalikButerin) December 27, 2017
Then there’s Litecoin founder Charlie Lee, who recently announced that he was liquidating all of his Litecoin holdings. That action sent the price of Litecoin into freefall as speculators no longer wanted to bet on a founder who didn’t care about the price of his coin. They were right, Lee doesn’t care about the price of his coin, only the health of its technology.
Another project is DragonChain, which I praised during its anti-hype token sale (flash forward: their token is now in the top-50). They employ a unique feature designed to discourage speculation: slumber score. The longer you hold it, the more power you gain in their ecosystem. That’s a brilliant mechanism that discourages quick flips. More blockchain startups should incentivize holding.
Perhaps my favorite example of anti-hype is ChainLink, which was dragged kicking and screaming to a $300 million market cap. They have among the most devoted fans in all of cryptocurrency (called “Marines”), a revered founder in Sergey Nazarov, and substantive tech that solves an important platform problem. Yet look at their wasteland of a Twitter account. Or read any of their (rare) interviews, which equivocate and qualify with nary a scent of showmanship. In an age where the hype companies throw a parade over the smallest (questionable) partnerships, ChainLink barely touts its work with freaking SWIFT.
Why should founders take the anti-hype route? Well, for one, you can still grow very big in the short term, but you’ll also better weather crashes long-term. When a crash does come (I’m looking at you, Tether), the projects left standing will be the ones with the highest percentage of true believers and the lowest percentage of fly-by-night speculators.
Another reason to take the anti-hype route is that, while new investors are taken in by hype, the seasoned investors are growing weary. At a recent developer meetup, the flashy blockchain presentations elicited eye rolls and the dull, geeky ones got swarmed. That’s the way the trend line is moving.
For investors, it makes sense to balance hype coins against anti-hype coins. One strategy is to funnel hype gains into an anti-hype portfolio. Another is to forego hype coins altogether and buy the boring long. A good rule of thumb: If you think we’re in a bubble, look at the project’s fundamentals and ask yourself how much of its market cap is because of those fundamentals and how much is because that project is fanning the flames of speculation.