Why are you writing a retrospective of the last year?
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything here on the blog. There is a reason for that – yesterday I finished taking the bar exam, so I’ve spent the last ten weeks huddled over a kitchen table, memorizing black-letter law.
As it happens, today is a pretty consequential anniversary: one year ago today, I handed in my notice at the startup I co-founded, Monax, to move back home to (a) take care of an ailing parent and (b) attain a professional goal I’ve had ever since I was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales in 2011: getting admitted as an attorney-at-law in the USA.
Since then, Monax has gone on to do some really interesting work in both the private and public blockchain arenas. Of particular note is a project I helped to negotiate back when I was still at the company, the fusion of Monax’s implementation of the Ethereum Virtual Machine and IBM’s Hyperledger Fabric blockchain software. Monax has since integrated its EVM, known as Hyperledger Burrow (note marmot-themed name), with Intel’s Sawtooth blockchain software as well.
This is great because it means that there’s finally an Ethereum implementation with backing from big enough companies that there’s a chance the Ethereum ecosystem may yet escape total domination by a serial ICO-issuing company some of my friends call the “Evil Empire,” a company that shall go nameless at this juncture.
But that was my old life. What have I been up to this year? Well:
August 2017: I leave Monax and pass the NYLE. At the urging of my friend Jonathan Mohan, I get back into blogging with a vengeance and start writing my “ICO Mania” blog post series, which would go on to rack up more than 320,000 hits over the next twelve months.
My opening salvo was about beavers, or as I prefer to call them, “swamp marmots.” My follow up, Thoughts on the SAFT, criticised the “Simple Agreement for Future Tokens,” or “SAFT,” ICO issuance documents – endorsed at the time by Cooley LLP and, if memory serves, a couple of lawyers who are no longer at Debevoise – as falling foul of U.S. securities laws.
tl;dr, I said that every ICO I’d ever seen was a security, a view I’ve held since 2014.
Nobody listened to him, either.
September 2017: The UK FCA decides to bury its head in the sand re: ICOs. I enroll at UConn Law on an LL.M. (Master of Laws) program. I write the Bear Case for Crypto. My thesis is that when the regulators finally get it together and take out a sufficiently major piece of infrastructure for regulatory transgressions, there will be a massive, rapid, and inescapable price collapse as offices are raided and servers are seized.
Note for the record, I still stand by this thesis, and consider that Tether/Bitfinex present a high risk of being a future source of systemic problems in Bitcoinlandia.
October 2017: Cooley LLP publishes the SAFT White Paper, arguing that “utility token” ICOs are kosher as far as the federal government is concerned. I dissent. A partner from Cooley who gets paid far better than I do tries to dunk on me in Forbes, saying “the SAFT doesn’t become the token. There is no existential metaphysical continuum where this pdf file become[s] an entry on a decentralized ledger. That’s not how the world works. And frankly, that’s not how the Howey test works.”
“We’ll see about that,” I think to myself at the time.
In October I also stumble across a nascent “stablecoin” scheme nobody had heard of called Basis/Basecoin. I excoriate it in writing because there is absolutely no way the scheme can work without bots manipulating the market for the token. 8 months later, Basis goes on to raise $130 million, pre-product and pre-revenue, from Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed and Bain.
November 2017: I pass the MPRE. I propose that the Bitcoin/altcoin market is getting sufficiently out of control that it will almost certainly become a systemic risk if regulators continue to fail to intervene.
December 2017: MakerDao/DAI dares me to write about them. I oblige. Estonia proposes launching a national Ponzi scheme. Venezuela actually launches one. Sadly, my father passes away after a six-year struggle with cancer.
January 2018: The MakerDAO/DAI stablecoin breaks when a market-manipulation bot supporting its price is accidentally switched off.
The Securities and Exchange Commission sends out the first batch of ICO subpoenas. Around the same time, Jay Clayton, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, dunks on at the SAFT, calling the structure “disturbing.”
I can barely contain my smug satisfaction at being right, about both DAI and the SAFT. Bitfinex and Tether receive a subpoena from the CFTC.
February 2018: Jay Clayton, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, ups the regulatory rhetoric when he tells the United States Senate that every ICO he’s ever seen is a security.
March 2018: I team up with Nouriel Roubini to call shenanigans on the Bitcoin bubble.
April 2018: @Hasufl and I discover some irregularities in the Ethereum ICO from 2014 (my post, and his post) which show that ICO was likely organized and funded, in large part, by one person or a small group of people working in concert.
May 2018: 9x exams and 1x 50-page paper later, I finish at UConn, having made some fantastic friends along the way, and am awarded an LL.M. in U.S. law. Meaning I have two law degrees, which is one more than most. Gary Gensler says that an Ether token is probably a security, and I concur. The DOJ launches a criminal probe, in conjunction with the CFTC, into Bitcoin price manipulation.
June 2018: SEC Director William Hinman says that Ether – which was created by ICO – is not a security. Despite the fact that Jay Clayton said, in February, that every ICO he’s ever seen is a security. As usual, I point out that the grown-up lawyers are a little behind the curve when it comes to “blockchain,” and dissent.
On the Bitcoin front, an independent report claims that Tether – a central point of failure for the ecosystem if ever there were one – was mostly responsible for Bitcoin’s rise.
July 2018: I lock myself indoors to study, and only occasionally step outside to take pictures of the marmots that live in my yard and eat my plants.
Yesterday: Attempt to jump over the final hurdle: the UBE (Uniform Bar Exam). I’ll find out the scores in a couple of months.
Today: It transpires that ICO capital raising was 50% of IPO fundraising for Q2 2018. Remember that fuzzy marmot who told you nine months ago that this stuff was going to become a systemic risk if the regulators didn’t bring it under control? Well…
Tomorrow: who knows?
2017-18 was a crazy year. Now that I’ve got some room in my head to think again (bar exams are really the worst), I’m glad to have a little time to sit down to plot my next move.
I want to thank everyone who’s stuck around for the ride, read my blog posts, and chatted with me on Twitter during that time. You’ve made the last year incredibly personally rewarding, even though I’ve been “off of the field,” so to speak, while sorting out my professional qualifications.
Given how interesting the last 365 days have been, I can only imagine the next 365 are going to be even better.
Finally, here’s an obligatory picture of the marmot who lives in my back yard.