On Monday morning, Kim Kardashian posted this Story to her more than 210 million Instagram followers:
Plenty of celebrities and influencers have promoted cryptocurrency and blockchain projects over the years, including huge names like DJ Khaled and Paris Hilton. But Kim K’s post is almost certainly the biggest single piece of social-media crypto promotion ever in terms of absolute reach. And it comes on the heels of shoutouts for ethereum max from other big names, including National Basketball Association great Paul Pierce and boxing legend Floyd Mayweather. In fact, according to a press statement, ethereum max was “the Exclusive CryptoCurrency (sic) accepted for online ticket purchasing” for the recent Mayweather/Logan Paul pay-per-view fight.
That all seems very impressive, so you might naturally be wondering what EthereumMax is and whether you should be buying it. To help you decide, I spent a few hours doing a very shallow dive into the project. I share my findings below.
But this isn’t just about EthereumMax (sometimes abbreviated to emax). For years, crypto investors emphasized that you should “do your own research” about projects because the industry is so rife with scams, fraud and bad projects. It’s not obvious how exactly to go about that research, though, so I hope you'll find some helpful methods below.
To be clear, what follows isn’t the right analytical approach for everyone. For day traders who move in and out of holdings quickly in an attempt to buy low and sell high over very short timespans (hours, not days), market signals like trading volumes or price patterns are key.
But for crypto buyers looking to make a longer-term investment, it’s best to focus on what stock traders call fundamentals. That includes information about who’s behind the project, what kind of innovation it brings to the table, its roadmap, revenues, spending, etc. A lot of this can be gleaned from public statements posted by the project and its participants: You don’t have to be a professional detective to do your own research, you just have to be willing to do some thoughtful reading.
During my quick research session, I saw a number of signals that suggest investors should approach EthereumMax cautiously.
For one thing, that Kim Kardashian Story was bought and paid for.
What is EthereumMax?
But before we get to that, some basics. The EthereumMax project was launched just a month ago, a spokesperson said Monday. According to its website, emax is an ERC-20 token on the Ethereum blockchain. That means it is NOT a fork, upgrade or competitor of Ethereum. An ERC-20 requires very little technical skill to create (that’s kind of the point), and they take advantage of functions of the Ethereum blockchain itself.
And despite the name, emax is not affiliated with any of the developers behind Ethereum. This is a fairly common problem in crypto because names are often not copyrighted or policed. There are dozens of coins with “bitcoin” in the name, for instance, but most have little to do with BTC.
While some ERC-20s are just for fun and have no real function, others are used to operate secondary software systems. Broadly, the hope is these tokens will increase in value based on their utility in those systems. But it’s hard to figure out exactly how emax works – the “tokenomics” section of the project's home page contains only vague descriptions of “community perks” and a forthcoming non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace. It also promises “yield rewards” that distribute 3% of all transactions divided among holders. But there’s no detail about how any of this works.
There also doesn’t appear to be any information on the homepage about the team behind the project. This varies widely, but projects with unknown backers and developers are generally considered of higher risk. That’s in large part because it reduces the risk of prosecution or other blowback if the team disappears with investor funds or abandons the project.
Kim K, paid shill
So, now to Kim’s paid Story. I know she was paid, not thanks to some great investigative achievement, but because Kim included a promotional disclosure in the post itself. It’s at the far bottom right of the Story, though, and just three characters long: #AD. As in, advertisement.
This is just the sort of disclosure the Federal Trade Commission requires from social media influencers who post ads for beauty products or health supplements. Similarly, the Securities and Exchange Commission is primarily concerned with undisclosed promotion, so Kim’s disclosure is likely protection there, too.
How much did the people behind emax pay Kardashian? There’s no easy way to know, but previous reporting suggests she gets paid between $300,000 and $500,000 for most posts, and in some cases much more. I would guess a post to Kim’s ephemeral Stories feed is less spendy – but if you’re an investor, you should consider whether spending a year's worth of developer salary on an Instagram ad serves the long-term interest of a project.
Equally, Kim’s disclosure raises questions about the other celebs promoting emax. Paul Pierce did not include any promotional disclosure when he tweeted about emax on May 26, and I’ve found no evidence that Mayweather, who wore an EthereumMax T-shirt before the exhibition match with Paul, has disclosed any payments for his promotion.
That doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong, of course. Maybe famous multimillionaires Paul Pierce and Floyd Mayweather were truly promoting emax because they did their own research and they believe in the project.
The other possible explanation is they were paid for their promotion and just didn’t disclose it. This is something Mayweather has done before: he was fined $615,000 by the SEC in 2018 for tweeting about a coin called Centra, which turned out to be a fraud. At least some fans in Paul Pierce’s replies seem to believe the worst about him, too, comparing his tweet to Soulja Boy’s recent promotional-tweet mishap, accusing Pierce of being “paid to shill” and describing emax as “a classic pump and dump.”
Deals, deals … deals?
EthereumMax has notched a few deals that sounded promising. In a press release on May 26, a press release trumpeted that EthereumMax "is now the exclusive CryptoCurrency (sic) accepted for online ticket purchasing” for the Mayweather/Paul bout. On May 28, another release described a partnership with Miami’s Groot Hospitality to accept the token for payments at two nightclubs.
It’s very much a mark in favor of the EthereumMax project that it seems to have negotiated cryptocurrency payments deals with a respected nightlife entrepreneur and with the organizers of the biggest boxing (exhibition) bout in years.
But is that what really happened?
Whenever you see claims about partnerships, look into the partners. Groot Hospitality, despite its goofy name, seems to be a legitimate Florida-based restaurant and nightclub business. A quick search of its listed properties shows they're broadly well-reviewed and high-end businesses. (Groot’s Miami Asian fusion outlet Komodo seems particularly mouthwatering.) And while it may sound obvious, there’s a good amount of evidence from professional news coverage that Grutman is a real person and basically respected in his industry.
But it seems the Groot Hospitality deal hit a snag. On June 3 the firm tweeted that its “use of EthereumMax Cryptocurrency (sic) will be postponed due to processing.”
The boxing deal also isn’t quite what it seems at first glance. There is no mention of EthereumMax on the official portal for Mayweather-Paul tickets built by Fanmio, the fight’s promoters. There are no statements or releases directly from Fanmio discussing any deal with Ethereum Max. And EthereumMax’s press release directs to an entirely different page, mayweatherpaultickets.com, which doesn’t indicate any affiliation with Fanmio.
To get a clearer picture, we reached out to EthereumMax about the program. “We had direct relations with a promoter to sell an exclusive limited amount of tickets,” a representative told us. “This was not partnered with Fanmio or ShowTime.” Basically, EthereumMax built a middleman portal at mayweatherpaultickets.com that somehow swaps emax for dollars, which are then used to buy tickets. But the portal isn’t authorized by the fight’s promoters. (CoinDesk has reached out to Fanmio for comment as well, and we’ll update this story if we hear back.)
The project's honesty when questioned is a point in their favor. But it makes the original claims seem misleading: How could EthereumMax claim to be the “exclusive CryptoCurrency (sic) accepted for online ticket purchasing” for the fight, if there’s no official relationship to the promoters? The wording is very careful – it doesn’t say emax is the “official cryptocurrency of the Mayweather-Paul fight” or similar. In this case “exclusive” just means “the only token you can use for this purpose.”
That doesn’t mean it’s based on an official relationship – but the choice of words suggests EthereumMax would like you to think it is.
Another easy way to evaluate a little-known project is to examine the professionalism of its presentation. We’ve already noticed the Ethereum Max website doesn’t have much in-depth information. And its press releases are a little troubling as well.
Here’s the first sentence of that May 28 release about the now-paused nightclub deal:
“Groot Hospitality announced that it would “accept $eMax as it’s (sic) exclusive crypto currency (sic) at the groups (sic) largest Miami nightclubs LIV and Story.”
In journalistic jargon, “sic” means “this error was in the original.” So that’s three grammatical or spelling mistakes in the first sentence of the project’s press release (correct versions: “its,” “cryptocurrency,” and “group’s”).
These misspellings are not a warning sign simply because they indicate that a team isn’t entirely professional. In crypto in particular, it may be tempting to dismiss such errors as honest mistakes from teams who don’t always speak English as their first language, or who are overworked and just not that focused on PR.
But believe it or not, many scams actually insert spelling or other mistakes in their literature intentionally. This is for much the same reason they recycle scams such as the “Nigerian Prince” swindle: By turning away people with more critical judgment, they can focus on more gullible or impulsive targets. In the case of email scams, it saves scammers the labor hours that would otherwise be wasted corresponding directly with a prospect who might ask too many questions. The effectiveness of this "negative filtering" strategy was demonstrated in a 2012 Microsoft Research study.
Another way to do your own research is to look back at old press releases for evidence of a team’s follow through. For instance, this May 30 release says the EthereumMax team “is planning on releasing their Q3 roadmap before the Floyd Mayweather vs. Logan Paul PPV.” Eight days after that match, there is no sign of a roadmap of any sort on the project’s website. Delays happen, of course, so there may be nothing to worry about here – but would you invest in a conventional startup that missed this sort of deadline?
The power of the quick read
As I said, I’m not here to draw any conclusions about EthereumMax. Nor do I claim I’ve examined it from every angle – in fact, that’s the point. You can do this kind of rough analysis of any project in just a few hours (it only took me about five hours of work to do this research and write it up for you).
Depending on how much money you plan to drop on a buzzy new crypto token, that time may be the best investment you can make.