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‘The B Word’ bounced between boring and bewildering

July 23, 2021, 2:32 AM UTC

Weeks of buildup culminated Wednesday with the meeting of the minds billed as “The B Word.” Pitched as an effort to “demystify and destigmatize mainstream narratives about Bitcoin,” what we got was a long-winded panel discussion featuring three of the tech world’s most visible crypto boosters who (surprise!) talked up why they think Bitcoin is the future.

Most of the conversation was well-worn territory at this point. We all know how Tesla CEO Elon Musk feels about the limitations of Bitcoin’s base layer, how Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey thinks it can become the Internet’s “native currency,” and why ARK Invest CEO Cathie Wood believes it’s a vehicle for “disruptive innovation” in the financial system. At its worst, the panel was a droning, hour-plus-long infomercial for the benchmark cryptocurrency—one sandwiched in between several other, actually informative sessions digging into the technical and regulatory intricacies of the Bitcoin ecosystem.

But that doesn’t mean the headline chat was an entirely droll affair, despite Musk’s capacity for carrying on to no end (he monopolized nearly 40% of the discussion, per my transcription software). There’s no doubting the intellectual firepower that was on hand, or all three panelists’ deep understanding of, and belief in, the subject matter they were promoting. Musk made some news by disclosing that SpaceX, like Tesla, holds some Bitcoin on its balance sheet, and reiterated that his electric carmaker could resume accepting the token as payment should energy-intensive Bitcoin miners maintain what he described a “positive trend” toward renewable sources.

But even if you do believe in Bitcoin’s potential to change the world, it was hard to overlook the pretentiousness inherent to the entire spectacle, or the farfetched nature—if not downright absurdity—of some of the proclamations. Dorsey is, in many ways, a deeply impressive entrepreneur—his dual, concurrent CEO stints continue to confound—and one only has to behold his get-up (beard, nose ring, tie-dye galore) to understand that he’s a different cat. But any level-headed observer had to scoff at his apparently genuine “hope” that Bitcoin could bring about “world peace.”

Though she has her detractors, Wood has established herself as a prescient, game-changing investor whose approach has upended how Wall Street thinks about technology. But her assertion that Bitcoin would qualify as an ESG investment—one that could rectify social inequities by making it cheaper for the world’s poor to send money across borders, or address governance by clearing up the “opaqueness” surrounding the “toll-takers in the traditional financial world”—struck as idealistic at best and fanciful at worst.

And then there was Musk, who provided us the spectacle of witnessing the world’s third-richest man drop childish locker room puns (he gave himself away with a subsequent chuckle) and who espoused familiar views about crypto’s capacity to help individuals to break free from the tyranny of “the biggest corporation of all”—government. That anti-establishment streak was shared by Dorsey, who—despite running two companies with a combined market capitalization exceeding $170 billion—said he continues to be “skeptical of corporations,” and echoed Elon’s belief that Bitcoin can tear down the “monopolies of violence” that plague society.

While it all had the capacity to amuse, it was hard not to walk away from the conversation feeling as though you’d been given a heavy dose of the self-aggrandizing rhetoric that has become a hallmark of our Silicon Valley masters of the future. Bitcoin’s transformative impact is swiftly becoming self-evident; the rest just feels like noise.

Rey Mashayekhi
@reym12
rey.mashayekhi@fortune.com

DECENTRALIZED NEWS

Credits 🚀

OpenSea raised at a $1.5 billion valuation despite an NFT pullback… Crypto exchange FTX is valued at $18 billion after raising $900 million in funding… JPMorgan is giving its wealth management clients access to crypto funds… Bank of America might allow limited Bitcoin futures trading… Mastercard is deploying USDC to make it easier to spend crypto using its cards… PayPal increased its weekly crypto purchase limit from $20,000 to $100,000 per week and scrapped its $50,000 annual purchase limit… Robinhood is reportedly seeking a $35 billion valuation through its IPO and plans to sell up to a third of its shares, worth $770 million, directly through its app… Payments pioneer Paytm filed for a $2.2 billion IPO, potentially India’s largest ever… Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey tweeted his intention to build an open developer platform for decentralized financial services… One of the country’s largest crypto mining companies, Core Scientific, plans to go public via SPAC… Famed director Spike Lee was featured in an ad for ATM operator Coin CloudFidelity plans to roll out Ether trading for hedge funds by March 2022… Crypto.com deployed its Ethereum Virtual Machine chain testnet, allowing projects built on Ethereum to transfer over to its ecosystem… Crypto experts are in high demand as more countries look to launch digital currencies… More than half of fintech experts believe crypto will replace fiat currencies by 2050.

Debits 🐻

Major cryptocurrencies continued to slide, with Bitcoin nearing its lowest level this year… Crypto’s fall has some investors reconsidering the risks of big leveraged bets… Some experts blame the crash on regulators targeting high-yielding crypto accounts… The latest crash puts estimated total losses at around $200 billion, with $40 billion wiped out over a 24-hour period early this week… The CEO of British fintech startup Starling voiced concerns about the “dangers” of crypto… Ethereum co-founder Anthony Di Iorio is selling his digital startup, Decentral, citing safety concerns… The EU is considering ways to make Bitcoin trading more traceable… Malaysian authorities literally steamrolled crypto mining computers earlier this year… Hong Kong police busted a crypto money-laundering scheme worth $155 million.

FOMO NO MO

Is the trading boom of 2020 and 2021 slowing?

That’s a question The Exchange has had on its mind since Robinhood released its latest IPO filing. The popular U.S. consumer-focused investing app told investors in the document that it expects revenues to decline in the third quarter compared to its Q2 performance. The company highlighted historically strong crypto volumes in preceding quarters as part of the reason for its anticipated revenue decline.

On Wednesday, TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm raised some red flags regarding the highly anticipated Robinhood IPO and what it also says about rival trading platform Coinbase. As Wilhelm points out, Coinbase directly referenced fluctuating interest in crypto trading in its own IPO filings, while there are 316 uses of the word “cryptocurrency” in Robinhood’s latest prospectus.

In fact, Robinhood has already braced investors for a dip in revenue for the three months ending September 30 in comparison to the previous three months. The company says the decline is expected as a result of decreased trading activity—particularly for cryptocurrencies—based on “expected seasonality.” Wilhelm notes the peculiarity of a company touting an expected dip in its key performance metrics during an IPO run, adding that it’s unlikely the company will be able to post year-over-year growth in the next two quarters.

BUBBLE-O-METER

6%

That is the percentage of all global VC funding that went towards crypto companies in the first half of 2021. By comparison, just over 1% was invested in crypto ventures in the first halves of both 2019 and 2020 (and less than 1% in the second halves of those years).

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MEMES AND MUMBLES

Noted tech investor and occasional thespian Ashton Kutcher took to Twitter this week to grace us with the very first (and quite possibly only) episode of “Krypto With Kunis,” in which he grilled his wife, actress Mila Kunis, on an array of crypto-related questions. While Mila held her own, she was no match for Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin, who made a surprise kitchen-table cameo halfway through the video and broke down his blockchain with expert precision. We’ve certainly come a long way since That ‘70s Show.

Today's newsletter was lovingly assembled by Jared Lindzon. Thanks Jared!

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