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Utah Business

Several CEOs and investors think a crypto bubble is starting to inflate. But are they correct, or is it just a fear tactic?

Are we entering a crypto bubble?

From 2018 through 2020, a combined $9.4 in venture funding went into blockchain startups, according to Crunchbase. In 2021 alone, Crunchbase reported that $17.9 billion venture funding flowed into blockchain startups, nearly double the prior three years alone.

The early months of 2022 showed a similar trend developing. Among the significant valuations in the opening months of 2022 was Polygon, a scaling platform for the Ethereum network, which closed a $450 million for a $13 billion valuation, and Alchemy, which raised $300 million for a $10.2 billion valuation, according to Crunchbase.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain believers point to these emerging technologies as the future, while skeptics may say we’re in a bubble, with large drops in cryptocurrency values in mid-May not doing anything to quell people’s fears. 

Bubbles don’t often burst right when they start inflating, and it’s not a new concept for skeptics to say that a bubble is forming. In 2016, after Bitcoin and blockchain startups raised $290 million over the first six months of the year, Coin Telegraph published an article titled “Will 2016’s $300 Million Blockchain Startup Bubble Burst?” which quoted several CEOs and investors who said that a bubble was starting to inflate. 

At the time, Bitcoin was trading in the hundreds—even after falling more than 50 percent from its all-time highs of nearly $69,000, Bitcoin’s valuation as of this article’s writing was still hovering just below $30,000. Those questions persist today as single companies reach the entire amount of blockchain startup funding in 2016 as a whole. 

“It’s hard to shrug off the idea that a bubble is hiding in plain sight when you have such frothy valuations for crypto companies and pixelated images of ‘CryptoPunks’ NFTs selling for $23.7 million,” Sean Sechler wrote for The Street in February. 

NFT prices, including those of the top collections out there, saw dips in May. In the first two weeks of May, Bored Ape Yacht Club’s floor price dropped from a high of 153 ETH to about 90, according to CoinGecko. While there’s some fear in the air, long-term believers say to stay the course. The road to overhauling a financial system isn’t going to be without bumps in the road. 

“The quality has to shine through in a downturn,” says Doug Barnett, co-founder of Remi Labs. “The technology is the game-changing part of NFTs, not necessarily the speculative, gambling nature of the market today, and I think the downturn will help kind of push this forward to get real quality established and entrenched into the space”

There’s an opportunity cost for sitting on the sidelines of the web3 future, blockchain supporters say.

“If you’re an angel investor or VC sitting on the sidelines, it means you need to take notice and get involved. Learn about the opportunities in the Web3 space and understand the potential of different technologies. From blockchain to NFTs and DAOs, there’s a lot to grasp,” startup studio and fund Untapped Studio wrote in an email in March. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to learn about these technologies and start building with them as this tech is transformative.”

Perhaps the most infamous “bubble” in recent memory is the 2000 dot-com bubble that saw a stock market crash after a dramatic rise in valuations for tech companies in the late 1990s. 

Despite the bubble, some of the companies that emerged from that period changed the world. 

“They said the same thing about the world wide web in 1997. I didn’t believe them about the web back then, and I don’t believe them about the blockchain now,” says Nash Foster, CEO and co-founder of Pyrofex Corporation, one of Utah Valley’s first blockchain startups. “Every time a new technology that’s transformative is invented, people who lack imagination criticize it on the basis of ‘the things we already have are good enough.’ But clearly, that’s not how transformative technologies work.”

Clay Christensen’s “disruptive technology theory,” says that technology advances faster than people’s needs do. The current internet does a lot of things that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, and you may have already heard the term web3, a new future for the internet built on a blockchain. In some future cases, you might not even know that the underlying technology behind your transactions are on a blockchain, but a blockchain will be serving as a ledger and verifying all the transactions completed.

Blockchain may not be a disruptive technology. It could fall short of the success many people foresee for it, or it could be even more than a disruptive technology.

“True blockchain-led transformation of business and government, we believe, is still many years away. That’s because blockchain is not a ‘disruptive’ technology, which can attack a traditional business model with a lower-cost solution and overtake incumbent firms quickly. Blockchain is a foundational technology: It has the potential to create new foundations for our economic and social systems,” Marco Iansiti and Karim R. Lakhani wrote for the Harvard Business Review in 2017. “But while the impact will be enormous, it will take decades for blockchain to seep into our economic and social infrastructure. The process of adoption will be gradual and steady, not sudden, as waves of technological and institutional change gain momentum.”

Ernst and Young predicted that by 2030, about half of all business-to-business contracts will be blockchain-based, according to a 2020 press release from the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. If those predictions are correct, now is the time for people to get accustomed with blockchain for the future, especially people entering the business workforce. With that in mind, the Eccles School launched a blockchain curriculum in the fall 2020 semester.

“Familiarity with blockchain technology and its business applications will be critical for those entering the workforce,” said Kimberly Johnston, a member of the Eccles School’s Advisory Board, in announcing the curriculum. “By piloting viable learning pathways for University of Utah students to increase their digital literacy, we’re helping the next generation gain knowledge on how to leverage technology to solve social and environmental issues.”