Phil first heard about Hivemapper after the company raised $18 million in April to make a crypto-powered version of Google Street View. Users could buy one of two dashcam models directly from the company, for either $549 or $649. In return for producing mapping data, drivers would be rewarded with Hivemapper’s proprietary token, Honey. Phil ordered one that same month.
A 31-year-old electrician living in Ontario who asked not to use his full name, Phil said that there were two reasons he bought in.
“I love the idea of regular Joes being able to join a project and conceivably help build it as well,” he said. He’s participated in similar companies, including the decentralized wireless network Helium—although his hotspots never arrived.
The other reason, he told Fortune, was profit. Despite getting burned by Helium, he knew that if Hivemapper took off and the Honey token soared, he could make a handsome return as an early adopter.
After ordering his dashcam in the spring and being told it would ship in early summer, Phil has received a series of delay notifications from Hivemapper, which have also plagued other dashcam buyers. After launching in early November with 5,500 preorders, CEO Ariel Seidman said Hivemapper has shipped only 590 units. Only about 200 are currently online and operating, a figure reflected in the Hivemapper explorer and confirmed by Seidman.
Hivemapper’s Honey token has also proved opaque. After forking over as much as $649 for a dashcam, Hivemapper users on social media have questioned the real-world value of their rewards, which Seidman said the company is unable to comment on for legal purposes. Users have also raised doubts over Honey’s skewed distribution structure, with 60% of the token’s total supply pre-mined and allocated for insiders, including employees and investors.
On Discord and Reddit, early customers are comparing Hivemapper’s woes to those of Helium, a project that promised to offer a real use case for crypto—users would receive tokens for setting up hotspots in their homes to create a wireless network for Internet of Things devices—but has struggled to find adoption amid accusations of insider profiteering. The connection is not difficult to make, with Helium CEO Amir Haleem participating as an investor and adviser in Hivemapper.
As with other crypto projects that promise real utility, the pervasive worry is that Hivemapper will prove to be another top-heavy scheme where the insiders profit and the users are rug pulled—a fear exacerbated by the fact that 90% of the preordered dashcams have yet to arrive.
“This has all started to seem scammy,” Phil told Fortune. “I jumped the gun hoping to be an early adopter and went in a little blind. It’s amazing how greed can blind you.”
Seidman, the CEO, said such concerns couldn’t be further from the truth. He spoke with Fortune just a week after Hivemapper’s early November launch, which also happened to be the day after FTX halted customer withdrawals. The collapse of the exchange sent shock waves through the crypto ecosystem, and Hivemapper was no different: The project is built on top of the Solana blockchain, a favorite of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, and Hivemapper’s lead investor was Multicoin Capital, which would end up losing over half its capital because of FTX.
Nevertheless, Seidman said he was confident. He had previously founded the company Gigwalk, a variation on TaskRabbit’s crowdsourcing for quick jobs, and he believed that the model of mass participation by users—combined with crypto rewards—could disrupt Google’s stranglehold over street-level imagery.
As he explained it, hordes of Hivemapper users would passively collect footage from their daily commutes, which would then be processed and sold to companies like Redfin or Zillow. Not only does Seidman claim that it would be more affordable than Google Street View’s API, but also that the data would be refreshed constantly. Like Helium, the platform would employ a burn-and-mint structure, where the tokens earned by users could be purchased by customers to spend on mapping data.
By selling a reported 5,500 preorders across 66 countries, Hivemapper got off to a strong start (and, with the dashcams’ hefty pricing, sizable early revenue as high as $3.5 million). At launch, the company shared that one of its early customers would be the city of Shreveport, which bought dashcams for its garbage trucks and planned to use the rewards—as well as an additional budget of $7,000—to buy mapping imagery to better respond to customer service issues.
Seidman said Hivemapper had two other customers on board that would be exclusively using the map image API. He declined to name them, but did say they’re both logistics companies.
As with any marketplace, Hivemapper faces the chicken-and-egg obstacle where it needs enough mapping data to entice enterprise customers to purchase the imagery, but it needs enough customers to make the Honey token valuable and incentivize users to spend hundreds of dollars on a dashcam. With Hivemapper facing logistics challenges in manufacturing and delivering the hardware, progress has been slow.
The price of a token
Further complicating the matter is the fact that Seidman and Hivemapper can’t comment on how much the Honey token might be worth, or how to actually trade it. On the official Hivemapper Discord, moderators delete messages about the financial nature of the token and repeatedly warn that any discussion about “exchange, value, ROI, and buying/selling” is not allowed. Seidman said that the Hivemapper Foundation will establish an oracle to determine the price of Honey, but it has yet to do so.
The price analytics platform DEXTools does show some transactions valuing a Honey token at around 24 cents, with limited liquidity of just under $4,000.
Hivemapper started to distribute Honey to its 200-odd mappers on Nov. 10. Honey’s token explorer gives an early sample of what users might expect in return. In Hivemapper’s latest distribution, on Dec. 1, “coverage” users earned anywhere from 25,000 tokens to a single token, based on the amount of data they collected by driving. For top earners, this could prove lucrative if they find a buyer in the low-liquidity market.
The vast majority of listed transactions were for users who completed map editing and quality assurance work—a task that can be completed from a desktop computer or smartphone—and were generally rewarded with a tiny fraction of a token.
Another critique has focused on Hivemapper’s tokenomics, with 60% of the tokens pre-mined and allocated to insiders, including 20% to employees, 15% to the company itself, and 5% to the affiliated foundation in charge of governance. Seidman said these tokens would be restricted over a two- to three-year period, and that the future capital raised from Honey tokens was necessary to scale the project. Still, it blows other crypto projects out of the water in terms of insider allocation.
Users on the Hivemapper Discord questioned an incentive structure where nearly two-thirds of the tokens would be pre-mined, as one person wrote, “out of thin air,” while the rest eventually would trickle out to users. As it currently stands, four wallets hold over 99.7% of Honey tokens.
Phil, despite the project’s setbacks, told Fortune he’s remaining optimistic.
In early December, nearly eight months after preordering his dashcam, he finally got a notification that it had been shipped. Now, he’s more concerned about the Honey tokens and whether he’ll actually be able to trade them. He emailed the Hivemapper team, which has been responsive in the past.
“It gives me hope that this isn’t another crypto shitcoin,” he said.
The company responded to Phil’s email.
“Unfortunately,” the reply read, “Hivemapper staff is not permitted to speculate on the value of Honey or discuss listing or exchange information.”
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