It’s tempting to think so. Launched with the creation of bitcoin just under a decade ago, cryptocurrencies have gotten off to a rocky start. For all the hype accompanying their debut, few major companies and investors have embraced the notion of a virtual, decentralized currency without ties to any government or central bank – especially one that’s subject to wild swings in value.
In fact, the early days of cryptocurrencies have amounted to something of a financial Wild West, with no outside controls, numerous instances of fraud, ties to the sale of guns and illegal drugs, and huge amounts of money made and lost in an instant.
The failure of so many crypto startups can be chalked up to a lack of corporate and financial governance, according to Haydar Haba, managing partner with Andra Capital, a technology growth fund. “It’s like taking a startup company and pushing it through seed, A, B and C rounds altogether,” he says. “Most [participants] are unseasoned teams and have never run companies before. It’s just a recipe for failure.”
So is Haba bearish on the concept of cryptocurrencies? Hardly. Andra Capital has created its own security token, dubbed the Silicon Valley Coin. It’s backed by blockchain technology, an immutable, decentralized system of record for business transactions that accompanied the arrival of bitcoin.
The setup allows Andra Capital’s investors to cement their stakes in the fund through the use of dynamic “smart contracts,” and reap returns without the usual waiting period of seven to 10 years. Each token represents an ownership stake in the Andra portfolio, backed by multiple investments in mostly late-stage technology companies.
A major obstacle to widespread acceptance of cryptocurrencies has been their questionable status in the eyes of regulators. Some initial coin offerings (ICOs) have sold themselves as traditional securities, verifying the ownership of tradable assets and placing them under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. But others have claimed to be “utility” tokens, providing future access to products or services, yet falling outside the definition of an investment because they don’t represent an ownership stake in the company or asset.
SEC doesn’t necessarily agree. It has insisted that most cryptocurrencies and exchanges are subject to securities laws, and has begun cracking down on those that claim otherwise.
Andra Capital endorses the position that ICOs should be treated like security offerings. Too many have been dangled before unsophisticated investors, Haba says. “They got pumped and dumped to the majority of the crypto community.”
Most ICOs are in fact akin to selling shares in a company or asset, he adds. “The minute you start trading your shares for capital, that’s a security offering. It’s raising money for your company.”
Suspicions about the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies have also served to stall the acceptance of blockchain. Haba says the technology is still in its infancy and yet to prove itself fully, with or without the underlying presence of virtual coins or tokens. “Just like in the early days of the internet, a lot of work has to happen at the infrastructure level.”
Nevertheless, he believes, “blockchain is such a superb technology that it’s here to stay.” It has begun to transcend its ties to cryptocurrencies and is now seeing preliminary applications in a range of industries, including global supply chain management.
Haba speaks of blockchain as a tool for “democratizing investment.” Large investors tend to monopolize access to the highest-profile initial public offerings (IPOs) and “unicorns” – startups valued at more than $1bn. Andra claims to open the door to smaller entities by creating a “basket” of pre-IPO unicorns and tokenizing the fund. The transactions are fully audited by outside service providers, he says.
Blockchain technology doesn’t require the issuance of a virtual coin or token. Such instruments can be important avenues for funding, but most blockchain initiatives today are proceeding without them, relying instead on more conventional sources of capital.
For blockchain to reach its full potential, it will need to enable transactions at a more rapid pace than is possible now. Currently it can take hours or days for a transaction to be posted on a blockchain with many participants. Some believe the problem can be addressed through limiting the number of entities in the mix. But for many smaller companies and traders, blockchain could turn out to be too complex a technology to bother with.
Still, Haba has faith in the future of both blockchain and securitized cryptocurrencies. “I truly believe in assets as a way to back these coins – assets that are growing in size.”