At the end of 2017, when the entire cryptocurrency market was soaring, scores of new crypto businesses launched to service the frenzy.
And then 2018 happened.
It has been a brutal year for cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin (BTC) is down 54% this year, which is better than how the rest of the larger market-cap coins have fared: ether (ETH) is down 74%; XRP is down 78%, bitcoin cash (BCH) is down 82%; litecoin (LTC) is down 78%. And some, like BitMEX CEO Arthur Hayes, believe the crypto bear market could last another 12-18 months.
Nonetheless, New Wave Capital, which launched in July and calls itself the first crypto robo-advisor, says it hasn’t had any customers close their accounts, and instead has seen many customers invest more money. “The kind of customers who would sign up during a downturn,” CEO Eric Campbell says, “have more of a long-term approach to investing.”
New Wave’s sales pitch: crypto investing for regular folks, not just the accredited investors (people with minimum annual income of $200,000 or net worth of $1 million) to whom institutional firms have limited their crypto products. New Wave’s minimum investment is $100. Campbell and his cofounders Albert Cheng and Stewart Hauser all previously worked at Chariot, the shuttle-bus startup Ford bought in 2016 for $65 million.
Still, it is not exactly an appealing time to invest in crypto. New Wave invests customers’ funds across 15 cryptocurrencies (bitcoin, ether, XRP, bitcoin cash, stellar lumens, litecoin, ethereum classic, Zcash, OmiseGo, golem, TenX, Numeraire, Civic, Basic Attention Token, and 0x) and rebalances quarterly, with the weighting based on a risk survey and an algorithm. Amid this bear market, the weighting is heaviest on bitcoin, but Campbell is still most bullish on the smaller-cap coins—the ones that most people, even those who’ve dipped a toe into bitcoin, have never heard of.
“The smaller-cap altcoins have the largest potential, we think,” says Campbell. “In a bear market, everyone moves away from altcoins and they go back to what has been traditionally more resilient, which is bitcoin. They think it’s a safer asset. But when we come back to another bull market in the future, we think people will go back to altcoins.”
As for why the crypto market has been so brutal this year, theories abound: The initial coin offering (ICO) boom peaked; those ICOs that raised tons of money cashed out quickly; the SEC has cracked down on fraudulent ICOs, both publicly and behind the scenes; and the SEC has rejected a bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) multiple times.
The hype around banks using “blockchain without bitcoin” has also dampened. “I think people are realizing about the ‘blockchain for x’ type of thing,” New Wave chief product officer Albert Cheng says, “it’s difficult to build and it’s quite unnecessary unless there’s some reason for the underlying crypto protocol. If there’s not a particular need for it and you’re just creating a decentralized application for the sake of it, people won’t care.”
More simply than all of that, there were many hasty speculators who bought crypto high, then sold low in a panic. “A lot of people entered thinking the price was going to go up forever,” Cheng says. “And once the price went down, they weren’t thinking and just dumped it quickly.”
As the crypto world celebrates the 10-year anniversary of the original bitcoin white paper, bitcoin may see a bounce this month.
But businesses like New Wave have to bank on bitcoin not being the only long-term winner in the market. “When a market is bearish, there’s a flight to quality, and that’s bitcoin today,” says Cheng. “But our service is intended to drive long-term thinking. And if people are holding their portfolios for a long time, I think it’s prudent to have exposure to multiple coins. True paradigm shifts take a long time.”
Daniel Roberts covers bitcoin and blockchain at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.