Cryptocurrency has made some serious waves since Bitcoin's meteoric rise. In early August, the flagship cryptocurrency was worth less than $3,000 per coin; recently it was worth nearly $20,000 at its peak.
Many experts have warned that Bitcoin's ongoing value increases represent the effects of a classic speculative bubble, where investors pour money into a product that has become detached from any real-world value. But cryptocurrency isn't inherently speculative. There are multiple ways these blockchain-based currencies can be applied to the real world, and efforts are underway to do exactly that.
Business News Daily spoke with three entrepreneurs working to ground cryptocurrency in real value, rather than speculation.
BizX is a network of small businesses that are experimenting with a digital currency called "BizX dollars." BizX dollars are not a cryptocurrency on the blockchain, but a digital currency pegged to the U.S. dollar. Businesses in the network earn BizX dollars by offering goods and services to other members in the network, or they can receive a line of credit in BizX dollars from BizX itself.
Bob Bagga, CEO of BizX, notes that because this currency is attached to the dollar, it "avoids volatility, and it also makes it easy for people [in the network] to price their goods and services."
BizX dollars aren't the end of the line for BizX currency, Bagga said. Creating a stable alternative currency in the network has given BizX the opportunity to create a cryptocurrency that acts as an entrance into crypto markets.
"We're looking seriously at an opportunity to create a token that sits in between and can allow the BizX members to be able to transact in the crypto world and vice versa," Bagga said. "The volatility today is coming from speculation; people aren't using cryptocurrency for commerce. We could be that last mile to be able to allow for businesses to be able to connect crypto to Main Street."
ExsulCoin is about to launch its initial coin offering focused on social value. Aimed at providing educational opportunities and assistance to refugees entering new countries for the first time, ExsulCoin gamifies education by rewarding users with tokens that can eventually, after they complete advanced courses, be exchanged for crypto that is tradeable on the open market.
"We look at the idea in terms of both cryptocurrency and blockchain," said James Song, CEO of ExsulCoin. "Blockchain allows you to store things in a decentralized way – things like health records, refugee status – and store it using biometric data."
Where crypto comes in, Song said, is incentivizing education for refugee populations in a new country while simultaneously rewarding them for their progress.
"We have in-app tokens, kind of like playing a video game that has its own currency that doesn't translate into the real world," Song said. "Those … tokens [are] for basic and intermediate education. Then, at advanced levels … we give them tokens that relate to real-world value and transition those in app tokens to ERC-20 tokens," which can then be exchanged on the Ethereum blockchain.
The idea is to not only encourage refugees to attain higher levels of education that familiarize them with life in their new country, but to encourage them to help others going through the refugee placement process. Doing so can earn a user more cryptocurrency, and each user's progress and wallet will follow them even if they relocate, thanks to the blockchain.
While ExsulCoin is preparing for its ICO in February, Song said it is developing a large amount of educational material for the Rohingya population that have fled persecution in Myanmar. By leaning on the knowledge of a large refugee population in the U.S., Song said ExsulCoin is having success creating materials translated into Rohingya, a difficult task to accomplish.
"We're recording [translated] nursery school rhymes, songs and dances for children, stories, folk music, etc. – a lot of things you can't find anywhere," Song said. "We want to deliver this content in early 2018 and will have a full suite covering early childhood education next year. Then it's just about building a platform around that."
XTRADE.IO is an exchange platform that capitalizes on the speculative investment in the crypto world right now, but it creates real value by offering a streamlined, accessible platform for investors to stay apprised of trading in real time. Rather than crypto investors having to maintain many disparate accounts on different crypto exchanges, XTRADE.IO offers them a single, centralized location from which to facilitate all their trading activity.
"The problem with crypto is essentially that there isn't underlying value," said Alexander Kravets, co-founder of XTRADE.IO. "Bitcoin is not tied to real estate or intellectual property or anything … and so essentially what's happening is people are purchasing it as a store of value and there's not a lot of it."
This is a realization across the fledgling crypto industry, however, Kravets said. More tokens are on the way, many of which are aimed at creating real value grounded in actual goods, services or assets.
"Now we're seeing tokens being generated that do have intrinsic value, and in the near term I think you'll see a lot more of these tokens develop," Kravets said. "There's going to be more retail capital and more institutional capital chasing the return, but in the farther term we'll see more maturation, and a lot of those use cases are going to fail."
What's left, Kravets said, will be those tokens and crypto products with true staying power. These could be tokens that are stable enough to use in transactions or other use cases that haven't been conceived of yet.
As in any new industry, the good ideas will have to sink or swim on their own. The tokens and products that generate real value and fill real need will likely remain, while those that fail to address real concerns will fall by the wayside. One thing is for sure, however: Cryptocurrency is not synonymous with speculative investment.