ELIAN D. ALVAREZ

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Venture Capital Sector Facing Challenges in the Era of Cryptocurrency

Jan
04

In the past couple of years, cryptocurrency has experienced a sudden boom and is now making news in every sector. In the beginning, when bitcoin was in its initial stages, everybody was talking about Venture Capital (VC) and how it is going to benefit the small businesses.

So many venture capitalists made money by investing in innovative ideas that eventually materialized into unicorns. Instead of investing in the digital currency like bitcoins, investors preferred to invest in the companies, such as Coinbase or 21.co.

 

Bitcoin Price at All Times High

Some of these firms performed better than the other. For example, Coinbase ended up being in the first place in the app store of Apple last December as a result of hype over bitcoin. On the other hand, 21 kept changing its names and business plans. Back when Coinbase got its first round of funding from VCs, its price was about $110. However, recently, it has managed to reach $19,000.

An investment associate in the Digital Currency Group, Travis Scher, was of the opinion that had investors invested in the cryptocurrency instead of investing in digital currency firms, they would’ve gotten much higher returns by now.

 

VCs and the Increasing Trend of ICOs

This isn’t easy to grasp as it complicates the core idea of VCs.

The conventional way of making an investment was to find out the rising trend in technology, identify the targets that were in line with those trends and were in a better position to make it big, and then taking a profitable exit as soon as those companies were either sold out or went public.

But it won’t be an effective strategy for digital currencies like bitcoin. In fact, as more and more cryptocurrencies have entered the market, it has become even more confusing and complex. The community of dreamers, and entrepreneurs have been raising money via ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), wherein, they create their own digital currencies, sell them for money and trade them in the open market.

When it comes to venture capital firms, they offer the investors an unrestricted access to private companies that are not publicly listed. Therefore, the question is, where will these venture capital companies go, if ICOs become a strong medium for people to get a bit of hot technology.

 

Venture Capitalists and their New Tactics

Venture capitalists have been devising new tactics to deal with the frenzy of cryptocurrency. Instead of seeking a stake in the digital currency firm, they have started purchasing the rights to acquire tokens ahead of initial coin offerings via legal contracts. In addition to that, they are improvising conventional equity deals, offering guarantees to investors in terms of getting tokens if a startup company goes for ICO in the future.

Some investors have also invested directly in bitcoin for years. The founder of VC firm Social Capital, Chamath Palihapitiya, said that he, along with his partners, invested in 5 percent of the bitcoin in circulation and still hold a reasonable stake in the currency.

 

Increasing Risks Faced by Investors in the Digital Currency Market

Although, the cryptocurrency market is rapidly growing, yet, it is not without risk. In fact, so many investors have suffered from hacking attacks and have also been threatened physically.

Threats are very real and harmful, because bitcoin will be lost forever if somebody steals it.

 

Cryptocurrency Hedge Funds and Futures Tokens

So many VC firms, including Sequoia Capital, Union Square Venture, and Andreessen Horowitz have made an investment in digital currency hedge funds in order to benefit from the boom without worrying about managing these currencies. They earn profits by trading dabble, litecoin, ethereum, and bitcoin in the ICOs market.

Some of the big names in the world of VC, including Bain Capital Venture, Union Square Ventures, and Sequoia Capital, have entered the deals to acquire digital tokens. For that, they are using legal agreements called “Simple Agreements for Future Tokens” also known as SAFT. Andreessen Horowitz is also taking steps to include provisions in standard contracts for investments in order to properly address ICOs.

According to a research website, in 2017, startup companies made about $3.6 billion in ICOs. This, however, is nothing in comparison to the $52.6 billion earned by VCs from around the world, as stated in the report by CB Insights and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Despite that, investors are inclined toward ICOs as it enables them to make millions in short span of time as compared to VC investments, which take years before you can reap the return.

Rising Trend of Initial Coin Offerings

Nov
09

According to a report by Mangrove Capital, 204 ICOs have made a return of about 1,320 percent.

At the same time, investment banks and hedge funds have shown increasing interest in the digital currency with over 55 crypto-specific hedge funds. Before diving deep into why investors are showing greater interest in cryptocurrency, let’s take a look at what ICO is.

 

What is ICO?

Unlike conventional financial system, ICO or Initial Coin Offering is an alternative and unconventional way of crowdfunding. It has enabled a number of successful firms and projects to get the finance to start their business. New businesses and startups around the globe are getting millions of dollars in funds by issuing digital coins. The rising trend of digital currency has made people both worried and excited.

In ICO, the coins bought by investors are for businesses and marketplaces that are not developed yet. By purchasing these coins, they make a bet that a firm or startup will end up becoming successful and as a result, the coin will increase in value.

In average it takes about six months or a year to raise money with conventional venture capital (VC) system, but it is different when it comes to ICOs. In this token crowdfunding, you get to have a large crowd of engaging supporters who want to see you succeed. Not only do they campaign for you, but they are also your early adopters.

 

Growing Trend of ICO

Startups have raised more than 2 billion dollars since the start of 2017. It is a huge amount of funding, given the fact that not many people knew about it a few years ago. Businesses are making money via this mode of funding faster than usual.

In April this year, Gnosis (prediction market for Ethereum) managed to raise 12 million dollars in just ten minutes. In June, Mozilla’s founder raised 35 million dollars by selling Basic Attention Tokens in under 30 seconds for his new web browser startup called ‘Brave’.

ICOs have become the name of the game as they have left the venture capital market behind and are the biggest source of funding. It is a great option for those companies that are pursuing the application of blockchain technology.

 

Concerns by the Regulators

Despite the increasing trends of ICOs, regulators have shown serious concerns. They are warning investors that it is a high-risk investment.

Although, some coins value has dramatically increased, a very high volatility cannot be ignored. Some have also considered it a ‘speculative boom’, but that did not stop investment banks and hedge funds from showing their interest by making an investment in cryptocurrencies and ICOs.

 

Reason behind the Increasing Interest of Institutional Investors in ICOs

The digital currency market has made massive profits in the past one year or so. Initially, institutional investors were curious about what this is all about, but they started getting a hang of it gradually and became less apprehensive and more interested in this alternative investment. It is a kind of chain reaction that started with the rising interest among venture capitalists and now institutional investors, including mutual funds, investment banks, and hedge funds are following their lead. They have shown growing interest and are making an effort to estimate and grab the opportunities in the cryptocurrency market.

The reason why they are more interested in the new and unconventional currency is that it promises a higher return as compared to market averages. According to a fintech analytics firm, there have been at least 55 cryptocurrency hedge funds and a former manager at Fortress, Mike Novogratz, has recently announced a plan to use 500 million dollars for a new digital currency hedge fund. Blockchain Capital also made an announcement of raising 150 million dollars; a part of this fund will be for cryptocurrencies.

 

Goldman Sachs’ Approval

Goldman Sachs is planning to set up a bitcoin trading desk, as they believe that institutional investors are interested in cryptocurrency more than ever. The firm has reported it to be ‘a major milestone’. They believe that the investors need an over-the-counter brokerage platform where they can sell or buy as much cryptocurrency as they want. Goldman Sachs is of the opinion that it can take up this role, but there will be other issues, including market infrastructure and serious concern by the regulators.

 

If, however, ICOs becomes regulated, it will change the way how businesses raise money and will also impact the venture capital market.