A high token price gives a project crucial staying power, believes the CEO of IOHK, Charles Hoskinson.
Mention token price in the company of developers and many will hold their noses. In a lunch interview with the Financial Times back in 2018, Ethereum's creator Vitalik Buterin said that he felt an obsession with price had muddied the waters around cryptocurrencies and created the wrong incentives.
"The idealistic early coders, who wanted blockchain to transfer power from corporations and governments to individuals, last year started getting overtaken by get-rich-quick schemers. Some ICOs were scams. Buterin watched in dismay as his blockchain was flooded by mercenaries making a fast buck," opines the article.
But Hoskinson, who began as an Ethereum co-founder before leaving to set up IOHK, the main developer house behind the Cardano project, thinks differently. While there are certainly other factors that count towards a project's success – a strong consensus mechanism, say – he firmly believes the market should, and does, have the final word.
"Ultimately people do what they make money with," he said, in a call with CoinDesk. Token projects that prove to be commercially successful end up inspiring imitations, meaning that "the market will basically decide what the standards are."
"I've been in the space so long that I remember when Peercoin [the first to use proof-of-stake] was in the top 10, I remember when Primecoin [which confirmed transactions eight to 10 times faster than Bitcoin] was in the top 10," Hoskinson said.
These coins have struck on something palpable for cryptocurrency users. Over time, new projects have come along that have built on their successes, improved on some of their failures, and gradually succeeded them on the cap table.
Now, Tezos and Cardano are the biggest PoS-based coins by market cap; Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin SV are the most prominent projects offering a more scalable Bitcoin. In comparison, Peercoin and Primecoin have, over the years, faded into obscurity.
Hoskinson argued that the only way you can beat your competitors is to at least do what the most successful one is doing, and then try and do it even better.
Of course, it can throw up some surprises. "The things you think may gain traction and become a big deal, they could be yesterday's news, and other things that you don't think are going to be a big deal, end up becoming huge," he said.
Hoskinson didn't think that either Tether or XRP would be that successful when they first launched. But the market proved him wrong. Both have attracted demand which has led to highs valuations and has helped make them super resilient. They look to be here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
That's why Hoskinson thinks price matters to Cardano. A higher price means there's recognition among a broader base of users that a project has utility and inherent value. That creates certainty and staying power for a project: a hot commodity in a space often derided for its untried and untested technology.
Last Thursday, Hoskinson announced that the long-awaited Shelley protocol – which allows users to stake and earn Cardano's native ADA currency – would be rolled out gradually across June, with a full launch penciled in for June 30.
That created a buzz that has driven the ADA price up nearly 50%, according to CoinDesk's price data, and allowed Cardano to, albeit briefly, re-enter the top-10 largest coins by market cap. "We're flirting with it, back and forth with Tezos," Hoskinson said.
Price is a hard yardstick to measure yourself by. But so long as IOHK and the Cardano community can complete the roadmap, Hoskinson believes "there's a very strong possibility that we will be very competitive price-wise with the rest [of the crypto market]."
The powerful role of the market isn't something unusual to cryptocurrency. Hoskinson argues it has had the deciding vote in many of the crucial decisions in the technology space for the past 30 years.
Even though the very concept of a distributed consensus system has a long lineage in computer science, the first wave of tech companies in the late 1990s and early 2000s – the Amazons, and the Googles and the Microsofts – valued speed and user experience above resilience, Hoskinson said.
The idea smoldered until Bitcoin came along in 2008, and successfully made the economic case for decentralization amidst the ruins of the financial crash.
In the end, being responsible for a crypto project feels like leaving your fate in the hands of an unruly and unpredictable master.
"Sometimes the market just values something differently, and you just accept that as reality, because you can't really fight the market, and then you just do your best to try to work within the constraints of a broken system," Hoskinson said.
"Things surprise me and what I've learned to do is just be pragmatic," he added.
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