Crypto Tokens Are Rewriting Startup Finance Rules


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While you were getting on with your life, the world of crypto-tokens and currencies has been evolving at an astonishing clip. Bitcoin broke the ice and introduced the world to the concept, but new mutations are happening fast, many built on the Ethereum platform. Consider:

  • Startups and new-technology ventures are using “initial coin offerings” to raise capital, auctioning off cryptographically secured tokens (Joon Ian Wong in Quartz). Proponents see this mechanism, which has already been used to raise $150 million this year, as a method for bypassing traditional venture funding and routing around the “take investment, scale up, cash out” mode of technology finance that dominates today. If a new venture succeeds, its token will appreciate in value, giving early adopters a nice payoff. Of course, there’s huge risk for investors, too — and the more value these new currencies have, the harder people will work to break their still immature underlying technologies. Also looming in the wings: regulators.
  • As venture capitalist Chris Dixon points out, the larger implication of the rise of tokens is that they provide a method to finance the creation and support of open technologies. Traditional financial models demand that innovators close off their work. Tokens allow entrepreneurs to release a protocol or network technology, and to profit as it gets widely adopted, without hoarding the intellectual property. Dixon sees the token movement as “spiritual heir” to open projects like Linux and Wikipedia. Tokens, Dixon writes, are “a breakthrough in the design and development of open networks, combining the societal benefits of open protocols with the financial and architectural benefits of proprietary networks.”
  • Alexander Ruppert offers a deeper dive on how tokens can decentralize industries as they move up the value chain from network protocols to end-user applications, in realms like law and gov tech, logistics, energy, and payments.
  • Kik, the chat app, announced that it’s launching its own crypto-currency called Kin (Sonya Mann in Inc), which will function similarly to Kik’s existing “Kik points” rewards system. Kin also represents a bid to find a new business model for apps in the social media attention-sphere — one that doesn’t rely on ads.
  • Crypto-currencies function outside existing financial record-keeping rules and offer some levels of anonymity. That makes life easier for people who want to evade existing laws. The real-world consequences are already on display in the opioid overdose crisis: As The New York TimesNathaniel Popper reports, Bitcoin-based online markets are playing a big role in the distribution of the deadly painkiller fentanyl. Every time we introduce a new technology for connection, we amplify both social benefits and costs. It would be nice to think we’d be getting a little better at minimizing the harms, but so far, there’s not much evidence of that.

Apple HQ’s Splendid Isolation Is So 1950s

When Apple’s humongous beached-UFO of a new office opens, the world will gawk at its perfection, from the toroid curves of its glass roof to its 40-foot high dining-hall doors. But all you need to do is look at its site to see something that’s horribly, anachronistically wrong with Apple’s project, writes Adam Rogers in Wired: “Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general.”

Most companies today understand that their success depends on their complex, heterodox connections to the urban world, where creative minds gather, human behaviors evolve, and social practices get tested under heavy usage in close proximity. Instead, Apple Park is isolated in a pristine bubble, cut off from the community around it.

Apple has made few concessions to the housing and transportation infrastructure that will have to support its headquarters. Given its $250 billion cash hoard, Apple’s contributions to Cupertino, its municipality, seem paltry. “The company could have chipped in to double the frequency of CalTrain’s commuter rail,” writes Rogers. “It could have built a transit center in Cupertino, which, unlike Mountain View and Palo Alto, has none.” Instead, it bought $6 billion worth of gleam and shine.

That will be enough for many Apple devotees. Still, it’s neither community-minded nor far-sighted. As Rogers asks: “If Apple ever goes out of business, what would happen to the building?”

What the Fidget Spinner Craze Says About the Future of Retail

It’s easy to understand the great U.S. retail-store collapse of 2017 as a function of the rise of online shopping. But there are fascinating wrinkles to this story, too, including one chronicled by Leticia Miranda in Buzzfeed: Chinese manufacturers are now able to capitalize on waves of viral enthusiasm for gadgets, toys, and other products by delivering floods of goods straight to consumers, bypassing both marketing machinery and middleman retailers.

When word of a hot product like the hoverboard or the fidget spinner begins to spread through social networks and online media, the overseas manufacturers kick into overdrive and supply consumers before the people who run big-brand companies have had a chance to run their spreadsheets. That’s capitalism at warp speed, and it also means that the manufacturers are often operating beyond the reach of U.S. authorities who enforce product safety rules. By the time they catch up, the craze may have burned itself out — figuratively or (as in the hoverboard case) literally.

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