After waiting nearly a year to get their tokens, the first thing many Tezos investors did was get rid of them.
At least, that seems to be the case according to available market data, which indicates a wave of selling has taken place since the tech backing the crypto asset was released in beta.
All in all, prices fell 34 percent on Monday to $2.00, according to CoinMarketCap. From a Monday high above $4, the price dropped 74 percent to a Friday low of $1.10, before paring losses to reach roughly $1.76 as of press time.
Notably, the sell-off coincided with the first listing of Tezos tokens on an exchange, meaning investors were quick to take advantage of access to liquidity.
On Monday, Gate.io, a smaller exchange that ranks 22rd by 24-hour trading volumes, announced that it would support trading in XTZ or "tez," the native token of the Tezos blockchain. Prior to Gate.io's listing, pricing data had been based on tez proxies – commonly referred to as IOUs – available for trading on HitBTC.
So, while it's still early days, the decline appears to mark a tough first week for a project that raised $232 million in July 2017 in a record-setting initial coin offering (ICO). While Tezos attracted attention for its creative solutions to problems of governance in blockchain networks, it has since made headlines for its own governance struggles.
Even so, for investors who obtained tez at the ICO price of $0.47, selling this week would still be profitable.
As such, observers disagree over whether the decline marks a temporary setback due to profit-taking by a few investors, or a decidedly negative turn in sentiment around a project that was once seen as a way to make blockchain mainstream.
Speaking to investors, observers and network participants, CoinDesk repeatedly heard that the selloff should be attributed to the long wait for liquidity.
Tim Draper, an investor who described himself as a "long-term hodler" of the project's tokens, told CoinDesk:
The sudden rush of liquidity to the tez market, due to Gate.io's listing, may also have been a double-edged sword.
While it enabled investors to sell, it likely did not provide enough liquidity – due to the exchange's relatively small trading volumes – to let them sell without causing a sharp downturn in the price.
Just a blip?
Overall, investors in Tezos seem to be putting on a brave face following the price decline.
Meanwhile, a forum for Tezos traders saw more than one user boast of having bought tens of thousands of tokens in over-the-counter trades – prompting others to request an introduction to the sellers.
Mariano Gadea, head of the Tezos delegation service CeiboXTZ (Tezos holders will soon begin "delegating" their tokens to validators, whose job it is to maintain the blockchain in a way analogous to bitcoin's miners), went so far as to claim in an email to CoinDesk:
He explained that the market was undergoing an "adjustment" between HitBTC's IOUs and the live Tezos network's native tokens, and expressed confidence that Tezos' market cap ($900 million at the time of writing) would soon rival ethereum's ($47 billion).
Yet, even in the most stubbornly bullish environments, many expressed anxiety about exchange listings, based on the feeling that listings on large exchanges like Binance would attract buyers to the tez market and prop up the price.
A common theme was the blame the Tezos Foundation, the Swiss non-profit that conducted the ICO and launched the Tezos betanet, supposedly deserves for not having secured exchange listings prior to taking the network live.
A foundation spokesman, in an email to CoinDesk, wrote, "no single entity owns, manages or controls 'Tezos,'" citing a statement from June. He added, "exchanges that wish to list Tez are free to do so."
He declined to comment on issues related to the price.
Or a debacle?
According to another reading, though, Draper's idea that Tezos investors needed cash might have been too generous.
Tezos was pitched as a solution to the persistent governance problems that had plagued bitcoin and other cryptocurrency networks. By introducing a delegated proof-of-stake system – an alternative to bitcoin's proof of work whereby participants vote based on their token holdings – Tezos founders Kathleen and Arthur Breitman saw an opportunity to bring blockchain technology into the mainstream.
Ironically, for a project that aimed to improve governance, the Breitmans – whose company Dynamic Ledger Solutions controlled the code behind the Tezos protocol – soon found themselves locked in a dispute with the president of the Tezos Foundation, Johann Gevers (who stepped down in February, ending the feud).
That fight ate up months of time that could have been devoted to launching the network, sapped the community's energy, and apparently convinced some investors to sell at the first opportunity.
"It took more than expected … to have the network live due to the issues publicly known that foundation went through," said Gadea. "This delay caused some frustration on those investors who decided to claim their tokens and move them away rapidly."
Recent months have provided the market with additional reasons to worry – aside from infighting among Tezos leadership. EOS, another delegated proof of stake blockchain focused on governance, has suffered several setbacks since launching last month, which have led the organization behind the network's design to propose an overhaul of its "constitution."
James Sowers, who invested in the Tezos ICO, told CoinDesk:
It is also possible that steep price declines will characterize the launches of several much-hyped ICO projects, now that a feverish crypto bull market has given way to a bear market.
Alok Vasudev, an angel investor who is not invested in Tezos, but knows the project, said, "I think early volatility will be the norm as these high-profile projects come to market." He added, "lots of folks invested expecting much shorter times to liquidity. I'd expect selloffs at launch and after lockups expire for a lot of projects."
If the Tezos selloff is "gorgeous," then, the community – and the communities of other cryptocurrencies – might have more beauty to look forward to in the months to come.
Additional reporting by Brady Dale.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.