Mt. Gox founder helps (briefly) tank another crypto-currency

By Michael Carney , written on May 23, 2014

From The News Desk

Guess who’s making headlines again around plummeting crypto-currency values? The founder of Mt. Gox.

No, not Mark Karpeles, the eventual acquirer who, as CEO, ran the bitcoin exchange into the ground and lost hundreds of millions in client funds. I’m talking about Jed McCaleb, the man who launched the original Magic the Gathering Exchange that eventually (albeit briefly) became the world’s largest bitcoin exchange.

Yesterday, McCaleb announced plans to sell the remainder of his 9 billion XRP, the native currency of the Ripple transaction settlement platform. This sum representing 9 percent of all XRP in existence (100 billion total), but 115 percent of the XRP in circulation, with the remainder held by Ripple Labs. Thus, the announcement resulted in a swift and altogether unsurprising 47 percent decline in the value of XRP.

The 9 billion XRP held a notional value of just over $24 million at the time of McCaleb’s announcement, although it would be difficult to sell such a large block at market prices.

It wasn’t just the large “sell-side” pressure that dropped the price, but the fact that McCaleb is a co-founder of Ripple, and as such, his surprising decision to sell what amounts to his entire holdings in the currency was viewed as a vote of no-confidence in its long-term value.

After selling majority interest in Gox to Karpeles, McCaleb co-founded OpenCoin, which eventually became Ripple Labs, and was briefly its Chief Technical Officer. McCaleb, however, left the company a year ago to pursue other venture and recently has been working with a group of co-investors in an attempt to resurrect Mt. Gox.

With XRP message boards flooded by concerned Ripple enthusiasts, Ripple Labs co-founder Arthur Britton chimed in last evening, writing:

Many of you are concerned about what impact these sales will have on the market. What affects XRP price long-term is adoption of the protocol and growth of the ecosystem. As the value of the protocol (i.e. utility) increases, so does the value of XRP. The price of XRP doesn't impair the functionality of the Ripple protocol or network.

Similarly, the short-term price of XRP does not hinder our ability to execute on the vision. Our company is well-funded. We're not dependent on XRP. Britton further reassured current and prospective investors not to fear over future founder sell-offs:

We've heard and shared your concern about the founders' XRP allotment. Prior to today, we've been working on a founders' XRP lock up plan, which Chris and I are participating in. You can rest assured that a dumping event like this won't happen from other co-founders...

Some of you have asked what Jed's intentions are with his sale, you'll have to ask him. He hasn't been on the operating team for about a year, and hasn't been on the board since April. In the hours following Britton’s message, the XRP price climbed back to its pre-McCalebgate levels, suggesting that this was a short-term detour for the currency.

For a brief primer, XRP is not meant as a transactional currency that consumers will use to buy groceries and gas. Rather it’s used within the Ripple platform as an intermediary currency enabling quick and low-cost exchange between other currencies. (It also has anti-spam applications, but that’s another discussion entirely)

For (an admittedly simplistic) example, imagine I have Euros and you live in a country that uses Rubles. If I want to pay you for something in Euros, the Ripple platform finds someone willing to trade Euros for XRP and then another person I trade my Rubles for XRP, which can then be used to pay you. All this happens for (close to) free, at least as compared to the costly and slow money transfer and exchange platforms used by today’s legacy banking system.

Put simply there’s value in owning this XRP currency as a universal currency, even if (in most circumstances) it won’t allow you to purchase goods and services directly.

The total value of the XRP system, with 7.8 billion coins in circulation, is currently $24.7 million, making it 0.36 percent the value of the bitcoin system, but then again it’s much younger. XRP has a long way to go in terms of awareness and adoption, and early hiccups like this won’t help much. Then again, if the swift rebound is any indication, this event may not hurt much either.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]