For a technology that was supposed to transform and solve seemingly every problem in the world, the enthusiasm is fading pretty quickly.
Blockchain, the underlying technology that powers cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, is getting its last rites read at the Invest: NYC conference in New York, where hundreds of crypto true-believers have gathered Tuesday to discuss the latest trends in the still-nascent digital assets market.
The decentralized technology records and verifies transactions and has been adapted by companies including Walmart Inc. and Microsoft Corp. But after only a decade in use, some are already saying it’s perishing.
“Blockchain is dead,” Meltem Demirors, chief investment officer of CoinShares Group, said on the sidelines of the conference in Times Square. “After two, three years of spending a lot of money on this and a lot of investment dollars going into this, I think the bigger question as an investor is: What’s the scalable revenue model and is there equity value that’s created in these businesses? And arguably the answer is: not yet.”
For evidence, Demirors points to early adapters including R3, Digital Asset Holdings and Chain, which she says are pivoting into new business models. “Most of the companies that raised massive amounts of capital in 2016, 2017 to build blockchain, they don’t exist anymore or they’ve pivoted into cryptocurrency and tokenization,” she said.
As cryptocurrencies caught fire in 2017 and early 2018, a raft of firms — including cigar manufacturers and sports-bra makers — cashed in on the market’s love affair with the underlying blockchain technology, often using the ledger as an antidote for lackluster stock returns. But the sudden pops often didn’t last long and many of them lost steam as the price of Bitcoin and other digital assets subsequently crashed.
Data trends also show that blockchain’s been losing its fizz. In a big turnaround from years prior, the flow of cash into blockchain start-ups has dropped, according to data compiled by CB Insights. Businesses focusing on blockchain are on pace to draw $1.6 billion this year, down from a record $4.1 billion in 2018, the firm said recently.
Here’s what others are saying:
Digital Assets Data
Mike Alfred, co-founder and chief executive officer:
“Enterprise blockchain, this idea that every company is going to want to have a blockchain, that idea might be temporarily on the ropes, but blockchain is the foundation of what makes the entire ecosystem work. Bitcoin’s blockchain has been running for more than 10 years without interruption. In no way is that dead,” he said. “The current state — it feels like fatigue, it feels like trading fatigue, it feels like a lot of people are tired because we’ve been in this space and everybody is waiting for the space to grow up and for good things to happen. And it’s just taking longer than most people expected but in no way does that mean the space is dead.”
Mike Belshe, chief executive officer of the provider of custodian services:
“We haven’t seen this clear emergence of a dominant strong player for a non-Bitcoin cryptocurrency asset — something on blockchain. Blockchain has a lot of promise, but I think that blockchain’s been overhyped. Most people can’t answer the question of when do you use a blockchain and when do you use a database,” he said.
Hassan Bassiri, a portfolio manager at the Los Angeles-based asset manager:
“In 2017 and 2018 during boom bust cycles, everyone thought that blockchain would be the answer to pretty much everything in terms of technological innovation, asset issuance, trading, supply chain, insurance — everything. And slowly what people are starting to realize is that blockchains are basically public ledgers and it’s not an efficient system. Really, there’s very few things that belong on a public blockchain,” he said on the sidelines of the conference. “Anything that needs efficiency or speed operating probably doesn’t belong on the blockchain. And it’s crypto so everything goes through a hype cycle and we sometimes put the cart in front of the horse.”