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CORRECTION: A crypto startup is recycling old announcements to help prop up its flailing token

Ben Munster


CORRECTION: The original article stated that the price of Metal’s tokens had declined during the last 30 days. In fact, the price trended upward during that time period.

The original article included a comment, attributed to an anonymous Metal token-holder, that a recently announced equity investment by Erik Finman in Metal was a “pseudo-announcement.”  Although the comment was accurately reported, we decided to remove the comment due to a lack of corroboration.

The revised article also includes additional details regarding Metal’s “PoPP” reserve and certain concerns expressed by Metal token-holders regarding the company’s use of that reserve, as well as comments from a Metal spokesman. 

San Francisco-based payments startup Metal Payments, which raised some $3 million in a token sale in June 2017, has been furiously reviving old news, possibly to boost the price of its flagging token, MTL.

At the same time, the startup has been accused of misusing whatever is left of its diminishing winnings to cash out and invest in dubious side projects.

Founded by Marshall Hayner in April 2016, Metal Payments launched on the promise that it would create 66,588,888 tokens, and distribute them across various projects—21,088,888 ($10,544,444) to founders and advisors at around $0.05 each; 3,378,000 to the founding team, for free; and 13,378,888 ($6,689,444) to an app development fund.

In addition, there were two pools of funds that Metal Payments said it would “set aside:” 2,000,000 for the Metal Foundation, which would fund charity projects; and 26,341,112 for a “proof of processed payments pool” (PoPP) designed to reward users for making payments.

When MTL was worth $14 on September 8, 2018, the total funds held briefly amounted to $364 million.

But by February, by which time Metal’s price had sunk significantly, Metal holders began to notice that funds were leaving the PoPP pool at a rate higher than advertised in the white paper. It was only in April that Hayner disclosed in a Medium post that he had appropriated funds from the payments pool and the foundation to fund the “core metal team." Metal Payments executives then proceeded to move those funds and sell them on the market.

Holders were confused. “This was meant to be an untouched resource with maximum 7,200 taken out per day so pop would last,” wrote one investor on the company’s Discord channel. “Taking from the foundation and PoPP pool isn’t cool at all,” said another. “I don’t know how that isn’t illegal.”

In the last thirty days (as of publication), over 2.8 million MTL tokens have left the PoPP pool, according to Etherscan, worth around $1 million.  And in May, the company paid an undisclosed amount for “Crumbs,” a now-defunct micro-investing app Hayner had previously invested in, sparking further concerns from holders. 

Though it has slightly gone up over the past month, the Metal token’s price remains at just over half its value in April.

Now Metal is apparently doing whatever it can to resurrect its token’s ailing price. Over the past few weeks, the company has been breathlessly re-releasing old announcements—some dating back to 2017—via one of its primary investors, the popular “teen bitcoin millionaire” Erik Finman, leading to brief spikes in MTL’s value. 

And it’s worked. 

On August 19, for instance, Finman announced the launch of the “Metal Pay” app, positioning it as a competitor to Facebook’s planned digital currency, Libra. MTL’s price grew from $0.30 to $0.34 on the news, but it needn’t have—Metal Pay officially launched in September of last year.  

Meanwhile, on August 21, Finman announced that MTL would be listed on Binance, an enormous exchange known for doubling the value of newly listed tokens. Again, the news shook the price, sending it from $0.36 to $0.46—but in reality, MTL had been listed on the exchange since October 2017

Again and again, Metal promoted old news as new. Finman announced on August 24 that Metal was hiring, but the relevant job listings have been online for several months. And on August 25, Finman announced that Metal was moving into a new office—offices that, according to screenshots seen by Decrypt, the company has occupied since March. (“The tour of the new office was not triggered by moving in, and the announcement did not mention ’moving in,’” a Metal spokesman said after this story was published. “But by unpacking, cleaning, and decorating the office, Metal readied it for public presentation and video tour.“)

As this has played out over the past thirty days, MTL’s price has trended marginally upwards—but the amount left in the PoPP pool has dwindled further. 

We reached out to Metal Payments, and a spokesman explained that many of the reiterative announcements had been addressed to new users. And indeed this is true—for the Binance “announcement,” both Finman’s video and an accompanying press release addressed these “new users,” citing  “all the press we got this week” as the impetus. But isn’t Finman’s tweet—titled simply, “ANNOUNCEMENT: We’re listed on Binance”—still misleading?  

In response, the spokesman just directed us back to Finman’s video. 

We asked also about Finman’s “announcement” of Metal Pay, which actually launched late last year. To this, the spokesman said that the original launch had in fact been of Metal Pay’s “beta” service. But the original press release made no mention of a beta launch, and Finman, in his announcement, made no such mention either. Asked about this, the spokesman did not respond for further comment. 

Neither Finman, nor Hayner, responded for comment. 

Of course, running dubious publicity campaigns to boost investor sentiment is nothing new in the cryptocurrency space. So-called third-generation blockchain startup IOTA, for instance, said in late 2017 that it had partnered with Microsoft, when it had actually just subscribed to the tech giant’s online cloud service, Azure. Tron’s Justin Sun, meanwhile, has become something of a connoisseur in the art of desperate publicity, and has been derided for announcing announcements and playing up his tenuous relationships with big-name businesses and investors.

But Metal Payments, as brazenly transparent as its ruse is, makes a fine case study.