On Thursday, cryptocurrency payments startup TenX released a Q2 “Transparency Report” on the state of its finances. If you’ve never heard of TenX, you’re far from alone, but the report captures an immensely important trio of facts about ICO-funded crypto startups.
1) These Companies Have Too Much Damn Money
The TenX numbers aren’t quite an old-fashioned quarterly financial report, but it’s still a laudable gesture towards normality in an industry where most companies operate with absolutely no public accountability. How ironic, then, that that laudable gesture provides such terrifying insight into just how dysfunctional TenX is.
“There is no way a company should need $80 million dollars for starting this business. It’s a pretty simple product.”
The company is spending $740,000 a month, including $530,000 on salaries. That adds up to $8.9 million in annual spending, an utterly bonkers burn rate for a company that has no revenue and effectively no product. TenX execs have repeatedly pushed back the target date for release of its crypto-driven debit card, which has been on hold since Visa suspended its card issuer, WaveCrest, in January. TenX does have a mobile crypto wallet, but those are a dime a dozen, and TenX reports no revenue from it.
“They have 70 people [working] for eight months, and they don’t have any product,” says Larry Cermak, Head Analyst at Diar. “I’m not even sure what they’re doing. Some of them might be doing events, or marketing.” The transparency report details a lot of busywork, including setting up cold storage for TenX’s crypto-assets and customer service infrastructure for products that don’t exist.
The good news, at least for TenX’s employees and executives, is that they’ve got more than a decade to rearrange the deck chairs before facing any pressure to learn how to sail. That’s because TenX raised $80 million in an ICO in June of 2017, a glaringly stupid number compared to the less than $5 million that’s typical of a tech startup seed round.
“There is no way a company should need $80 million dollars for starting this business,” says Cermak of TenX’s debit card. “It’s a pretty simple product.”
And remember, TenX is far from alone. 450 entities raised an average of $30.5 million in ICOs this year alone, mostly based on vague business plans and legally nonbinding promises to investors. TenX’s $80 million looks downright sober compared to the $4 billion raised by EOS, a more ambitious but so far only slightly more substantive project.
2) Token Investors Are Fucked
TenX raised all that money by selling something called the PAY token. Cermak says that during the sale, TenX promised to use the token to give investors a share of revenue generated by its payment service (which, to reiterate, still doesn’t exist).
But the company has stopped talking about those dividends. According to Cermak, that’s because of fear of SEC regulation, and it means those PAY token holders—the people who helped TenX build its $80 million war chest for infinite, revenue-and-product-free self promotion—can expect to get exactly Nathan back from the company.
Especially galling is the fact that TenX has managed to turn those June 2017 contributions into an even BIGGER pile of money. Despite all its spending over the last year, the company reports it has a bit over $70 million in fiat currency in the bank, and around $30 million worth of ETH and bitcoin. That increase is likely because canny managers sold off ETH from the ICO during the December 2017 rally. Meanwhile, the PAY token that ICO buyers got in exchange for that ETH has lost about 40 percent of its value from the sale date, and nearly 90 percent from its January high.
No surprise, then, that those buyers are unhappy. In fact, according to Cermak, we shouldn’t really be patting TenX on the back for releasing its financial numbers: it only did so under intense pressure from its token purchasers. Cermak speculates that we could see lawsuits start flowing soon—especially now that we know TenX has enough cash on hand to pay back those investors, and still have a few million left over.
3) The ICO Wave Made Fundamentally Zero Sense
If all that isn’t enough of a kick in the teeth to TenX investors, the cancellation of the planned dividend means the PAY token doesn’t have any apparent role in the company’s (theoretical) product. That means it’s unlikely to regain any value through actual market demand.
But that’s barely worse than the many ICOs that were premised on future demand for a so-called Utility Token. Projects like DentaCoin launched into an overheated market with little more than hand-waving about ‘tokenization’ and ‘supply chain.’ Few of them have made even marginal progress towards real adoption.
Now the tide is out, and investors have little left to show for their hype-driven bets. Many of the shady characters who ran ICOs were canny enough to simply disappear. Others, it seems, couldn’t resist the urge to cosplay as jet-setting “thought leaders.” And they can do it for another decade without having to actually create anything useful for society… assuming the lawyers don’t come knocking.