Crypto.com’s name is all over the 2022 World Cup. Will it be around for the next one?

December 12, 2022, 2:22 PM UTC
Kris Marszalek, chief executive officer of Monaco Technology
Kris Marszalek, chief executive officer of Monaco Technology, attends the Bloomberg Invest Asia conference in Hong Kong on April 11, 2018.
Paul Yeung—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Happy Monday. Those of you watching the World Cup (where England found yet another cruel way to lose) may have noticed ads for Crypto.com splashed around the stadiums. Those ads, which couldn’t have come cheap, are appearing at a time of increased scrutiny of the exchange and amid mumblings about whether it can survive this cruel Crypto Winter.

The latest scrutiny comes via CNBC, which conducted an investigation into the business career of Crypto.com CEO Kris Marszalek, which it describes as “replete with red flags.” Those include the failures of previous ventures, including one dedicated to flash drives and another to Groupon-like flash sales. In both cases, Marszalek reportedly stiffed customers and business partners while rushing to cash out before the ventures collapsed.

Marszalek refused to speak with CNBC but instead chose to preempt the story with a long Twitter thread bemoaning media FUD, casting his earlier failures in light of the adage that “startups are hard” and describing them as battle scars. Meanwhile, Crypto.com on Friday published a “proof-of-reserves” study that purports to show that customer assets backed at a rate of at least 100%, and, more broadly, that the company is doing just fine—the study does not, however, amount to a serious audit.

Crypto.com and its CEO have been pulling out the stops to assure everyone things are just fine, and maybe they are. But that message is hard to square with the significant layoffs taking place at the company, and it does not resolve the question of how exactly Crypto.com is paying for those splashy sponsorships, which extend far beyond the World Cup. The company has also splurged on a TV ad with Matt Damon and a SuperBowl ad with LeBron James, as well as a $700 million deal to rename the Staples Center in Los Angeles and a $150 million Formula 1 deal.

All of this amounts to a staggering amount of money and raises the question of how Crypto.com is paying for all this. Coinbase, a bigger and more established competitor, is currently reeling due to a steep decline in crypto prices and trading volumes—even as its own big marketing outlays look modest in comparison.

The answer from Marszalek so far seems to amount to “trust us.” That’s all well and good, but, as the journalism crowd likes to say, “Trust but verify.” This puts the onus on Crypto.com to furnish proof—beyond a flimsy study—that will let others verify that it is not heading the way of Voyager, Celsius, FTX, and other marketing-heavy crypto companies that were fine until they weren’t.

Jeff John Roberts
jeff.roberts@fortune.com
@jeffjohnroberts

DECENTRALIZED NEWS

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Alameda Research ex-CEO Caroline Ellison has retained a former SEC enforcement director and heavy hitter at WilmerHale to represent her. (Insider)

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