Consensus 2017: Bitcoin Exchange Execs See Promise in Multi-Token Future

Exchange operators take the stage at Consensus 2017 to talk tokens, ICOs and building an exchange from scratch.

AccessTimeIconMay 24, 2017 at 4:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 1:23 p.m. UTC

How would you build a bitcoin exchange if you had to start from scratch?

According to Adam White, head of Coinbase's GDAX exchange, the answer is you wouldn't want to simply support bitcoin alone.

"We'd design our exchange to be able to support more assets more quickly. There was this theory that network effects would aggregate everyone into one asset. We see that's not the case," he remarked at CoinDesk's Consensus 2017 conference today in New York.

White went on to tell attendees:

"There will be hundreds if not thousands of digital assets in the coming years."

The remarks come amid growing enthusiasm for blockchain-based cryptographic assets that offer different value propositions than bitcoin. Overall, the market for all cryptocurrencies is up 400% this year, rising to $88m from $17.6m in January.

Amidst this diversification, Ola Doudin, CEO of Dubai-based bitcoin exchange and brokerage BitOasis, remarked on the rise in enthusiasm for alternative digital assets, noting how its customers in the Middle East are now twice as likely to buy ether than bitcoin.

Tony Lyu, CEO and founder of Korbit, also discussed the challenges in listing new cryptographic assets, given the variety of new opportunities and the short attention spans of a small set of early adopters.

"For every asset we list, there's diminishing returns," Lyu said. "If you go chasing to the next hot coin, by the time they launch it on the exchange, the fad has passed."

Conversation later turned to the subject of how, exactly, tokens should be dispersed to users.

While the bitcoin software offered a mining network, enabling users to run computing power to gain a share of the bitcoins it created, entrepreneurs are now largely bucking this trend. Through a process called an initial coin offering (ICO), many projects are simply creating and selling tokens on existing blockchains to build a network effect and raise capital.

Here, opinions were split with some industry luminaries emphasizing the opportunity the new blockchain use case creates, and others offering more bearish insight.

"There was probably a time in the distant past where Silicon Valley startups were funded too much too soon, and I think the ICO market is in the similar space," said Zooko Wilcox, founder of the Zcash Electric Coin Company, which manages the Zcash blockchain.

Erik Voorhees, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange startup ShapeShift, gave the most eloquent defense for the model onstage. His remarks showcase how the industry is defending the concept even while acknowledging that failures in the current environment are likely.

"You can have shares of a common endeavor that people would like to build, and to give immediate liquidity around that idea," Voorhees said, adding:

"All sorts of ideas will happen. Not all will be good. That's not really the point, the point is the friction of money and liquidity."

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in BitOasis, Coinbase, Korbit, ShapeShift and Zcash.

Image via Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk


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