Spent Its Way to the Top. Then the Market Crashed. Now What?

When I followed up with Cuban after the Luna debacle, his optimism was undiminished. “The crypto market highly correlates to the NASDAQ,” he said. “Three of the most heavily invested stocks—Apple, Amazon, and Facebook—have lost more in market cap than the entire value of the crypto market. No one is questioning whether Apple would be a good partner after it lost $400 billion or so in market cap. This is the way markets work.”

Maybe… But Apple has actual products. The crypto space, after over ten years of development, has little to offer beside database entries, ugly avatars, risky trades, and a portfolio of vaporware. Plus—and here I must again editorialize—the DeFi sector looks to me like a ticking bomb. Last Thursday, Tether, another widely-used stablecoin that attracts users looking for yield, briefly broke its peg to the U.S. Dollar. It recovered quickly, but many observers agree that a run on stablecoins could lead to a chain of cascading failure. “If things start to unravel, it could be potentially catastrophic for the industry,” one analyst told CNBC. This is the way markets don’t work.

I must admit that, before the crash, I enjoyed seeing my altcoin portfolio appreciate. I also accumulated a fair amount of interest, scored some Cronos kickbacks, and was comped a month of Spotify. I still didn’t really understand why cryptocurrency was so expensive, or complicated, but it felt good to be a joiner. In that way, Matt Damon was right.

Looking to commune with the tribe, I visited the long-running CryptoMondays meetup in Venice Beach about a month before the crash. We met under patio lights in the parking lot of an upscale Mexican restaurant, which had been converted, during the pandemic, into an outdoor bar. I’d been to a similar event, years earlier—a total sword fight, where feverish dweebs lectured one another about distributed ledgers. Since then, crypto had enjoyed a social upgrade: In Venice, the attendees were diverse, funny, smart, beautiful, and cool. I felt like I was in a vodka commercial.

No one I spoke to could remember who first organized the event—one attendee told me it was spontaneous, or “decentralized.” Some of the participants had been coasting for years on the proceeds of their swollen Bitcoin wallets; others, like me, were just getting started. I talked with a recent college grad and former javelin thrower. Jacked and bro-adjacent, he belonged to the demographic that refuses to admit it targets, but when I asked him about the company, he scoffed. “No one I know uses it.”

Similarly dismissive was Jackie Peters, a stylish entrepreneur who is building a blockchain–enabled dating app called “Trust!” (The app will use “Web3 technology” to restore authenticity to online dating.) Peters was still in the process of selecting which blockchain she would use, but Cronos was not a contender. “There’s nothing on there, technically, that would attract me,” she said. “I’m thinking of using a blockchain called Avalanche.”

Of the dozen or so attendees I spoke with, only Apu Gomes, a Brazilian photographer, had any direct experience investing with Gomes, who was looking to market NFTs of his photographs, was also a small-time speculator. In the weeks after Damon’s commercial first aired, Cronos had quintupled in value. The company’s next commercial, which featured LeBron James, ran during the Super Bowl. “It went down,” Gomes said. “I sold it to buy Solana.”

Many of the attendees seemed to be nursing hangovers. That was thanks, in part, to Audrey Pichy, an organizer of NFT/LA, which had concluded earlier that week, and which billed itself as “an epic IRL conference fused with immersive metaverse integrations and L.A.’s robust nightlife scene.” Pichy, who was born on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, wore a leather jacket, and bounced from side to side in excitement as she spoke. “Up until a month ago, we weren’t even sure how many people were going to show. But 4,000 people came!”

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