Gold Rush 2.0: Who’s Selling Shovels to the Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Pioneers?
There’s an old saying that goes something like: “During a gold rush, sell shovels.”
At the height of the California gold rush, the most profitable venture (on average) was not mining for gold itself, but selling the tools that facilitated the mining of gold.
The legacy of this fact is still present even today – your Levi jeans are a product of Bavarian immigrant Levi Strauss, whose business boomed when he began manufacturing tough, durable trousers specifically for gold miners.
While adventurers took to the hills in search of their fortunes, the more conservative personalities found a way to make money from the process before a pick-axe even struck the soil.
So who are the ‘shovel sellers’ in the cryptocurrency space?
By the second quarter of 2018, Binance had already become more profitable than Germany’s Deutsche Bank. That was less than a year after launch, and the exchange’s meteoric rise was such that the likes of Forbes and Business Insider began writing about the likelihood of $1 billion yearly profits being recorded by CZ and the gang in 2018
By the end of the year those profits ended up being closer to half a billion, and Binance’s BNB utility token was the only major altcoin to increase in value from 2018 to 2019.
Although exchanges aren’t in the business of selling physical tools essential to cryptocurrency mining or usage, they do occupy a gatekeeper role similar to local goldsmiths in the old west. Yes, gold miners could just keep their bounty to themselves and use it (with some difficulty) as its own self-contained currency. But if they wanted to exchange it for an equivalent value of fiat currency, then they’d have to go through a confirmation and notarization process – one which would require some form of KYC, and would ultimately demand a percentage fee.
With the presence of authority-less services like Local Bitcoin, and a recent increase in the number of decentralized exchanges, it may seem surprising that one of the most profitable gigs in the cryptocurrency space happens to be that of a centralized exchange.
However, this phenomena makes a little more sense when viewed through the lens of human nature: Read: 5 Things Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Investors Should Beware of in 2019.
Perhaps the most obvious example of ‘selling shovels’ to the crypto space comes from the mining hardware industry.
Bitmain Technologies Ltd has already earned its co-founder and CEO, Micree Zhan, an estimated $4 billion in profit – all from selling mining equipment to would-be cryptocurrency prospectors.
Towards the end of last year Bitmain announced its intention to undergo an initial public offering (IPO) – predicted to be worth an estimated $18 billion if it goes ahead. There are some obstacles to overcome before that can happen, such as gaining the approval of Hong Kong’s financial regulators.
But with that kind of money flying around, there’s a good chance Bitmain could become the modern day Levi. Even if crypto mining fades out due to concepts like Proof-of-Stake, we’d most likely see Bitmain continue to sell shovels of some kind, even if it were just general computing technology.
Bitmain’s estimated worth if the IPO goes ahead will eclipse the market capitalizations of Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), EOS (EOS) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH) combined – possibly the best example of ‘selling shovels’ since the gold rush itself?
Cryptocurrency can be stored safely on its native blockchain without too much trouble. However, if you want to gain access to your funds in order to spend it, divide it, or move it from place to place, then you’re going to need a wallet service of some kind.
Many free software wallets exist for this purpose, however not all of them can be trusted. The most secure way to store cryptocurrency is with a hardware wallet.
The popularity of the secure storage service offered by Trezor is such that it had become a multi-million dollar industry by as early as 2017. That’s the same year the company had to issue an apology to its customers after it ran out of stock due to high demand, when a spike in the value of BTC saw a sudden influx of Trezor orders:
“With much regret, Satoshi Labs would like to inform you that due to the exceedingly high and unanticipated demand associated with the increase in bitcoin value, our stock at TREZOR Shop has been depleted. We would like to sincerely apologize for this inadequate foresight related to the development of bitcoin value. Production plans have been fixed and this situation should not occur in the future again.”
Ledger hardware wallets have proven just as popular in recent years, or even more so considering their compatibility with a higher number of cryptocurrencies. Meanwhile numerous would-be usurpers to the Ledger/Trezor dominance have also attempted to make their presence felt, with varying degrees of success.
In terms of pure profit, wouldn’t it be accurate to say that the people involved in the peripheral industries surrounding cryptocurrency have found more success than those involved in the main industry itself?
This also raises the question of just what the main industry is – is it mining? Is it trading? Is it purely the pursuit of profit? Or does all of this amount to no more than the setting of foundations for the true crypto use-case – i.e. it’s role as a global transactional currency?
Note that I didn’t mention the phenomena of ‘blockchain influencers’ and self-professed ‘experts’ – another booming industry that seeks to siphon off value from the main expedition; and one that also had its equivalency during the gold rush era.
When the global cryptocurrency market struck its all-time high on January 7th, 2018, its $835 billion valuation was worth 11% of the total value of all the gold ever mined (according to current gold prices).
If the value of cryptocurrencies continue to increase as the global supply available from mining continues to decrease (as predicted), then the gold rush isn’t anywhere close to being over – and it may be worth figuring out how to sell a few shovels of your own.
Disclaimer: The author owns bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. He holds investment positions in the coins, but does not engage in short-term or day-trading.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.