The Dogecoin, a joke cryptocurrency that’s now worth serious money, confronted the threat posed by Elon Musk hosting Saturday Night Live this past weekend, and now it may be facing a challenge from an upstart puppy-themed competitor.
The Shiba Inu coin, launched less than a year ago and named after the dog breed, is a cryptocurrency that trades as SHIB and champions itself as the “Dogecoin killer.” A single SHIB coin is nearly worthless—less than $0.000029 as of Wednesday—but its trading surged this week after it was added to cryptocurrency trading platforms OKEx and Binance. Chinese traders have helped propel SHIB’s rise, with the Chinese-founded exchange Huobi, which is popular among Chinese traders, handling the largest share of SHIB’s trading volume in recent days.
SHIB’s 24-hour trading volume is over $8 billion, and it has a market capitalization of over $11 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.com. Before SHIB was added to the trading platforms this week, its trading volume maxed out at just over $500 million in a single day, and as recently as January its daily trading volume was lower than $1.
For now, SHIB may be a “meme coin” and have little to no underlying value or use cases. But experts say that its popularity should not be ignored since it reflects the behaviors of a new, growing class of cryptocurrency traders.
“Rather than simply dismissing the hype outright, it’s important to realize that what we’re seeing is the mass movement of traders new to crypto moving into the space,” says Ben Caselin, head of research and strategy at cryptocurrency exchange AAX.
Who is the better Doge?
The SHIB coin was created in August 2020, but little is known about its founder, who goes by Ryoshi.
Ryoshi has promoted the coin’s “Dogecoin killer” nickname, arguing that SHIB’s technology is more “community-driven” than its counterpart, which uses the Shiba Inu as its mascot. And Ryoshi has heralded its minuscule worth. “We have the ability to outpace the value of Dogecoin, exponentially, without ever crossing the $0.01 mark,” the founder wrote in a SHIB “woofpaper,” better known as a white paper.
Ryoshi, in the paper, says that the coin—along with the “Shiba Inu Ecosystem” that includes the ShibSwap exchange and a decentralized Shib Army of developers, coin holders, and fans—was an experiment in “spontaneous community building.” Ryoshi says in the paper that Shiba Inu are “incredible dogs” and encourages people to donate to the Shiba Inu Rescue Association. Ryoshi could not be reached for comment on this article.
“SHIB coin is a meme coin and embraces that,” says Caselin, referring to the new class of coins based on memes and promoted on platforms like [hotlink]TikTok[/hotlink] and Reddit. “The meme coin movement rejects formalities and protocol…Hence Dogecoin started off as a joke, and the Shiba white paper is called the woofpaper,” he says.
Ryoshi claims to not hold any coins and gave 50% of the coins to Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin after creating the currency. In theory, the move gives Buterin the ability to single-handedly control the market and crash SHIB’s value should he sell off his holdings. But giving Buterin this power was intentional.
“[The Shib Army] believes that all types of successes need some type of vulnerability,” says David Hsiao, CEO of crypto magazine Block Journal.
The SHIB coin lived in relative obscurity from August until earlier this year, when a surge in interest for Dogecoin drove traders to find the next big thing.
“[SHIB coin’s] rise has obviously been due to Dogecoin’s success,” says Hsiao.
Dogecoin’s meteoric rise can be traced, in part, to fallout from the [hotlink]GameStop[/hotlink] saga in March, as individual retail traders who fueled GameStop’s rise turned to joke cryptocurrencies. Periodic tweets in support of the Dogecoin from [hotlink]Tesla[/hotlink] CEO Elon Musk also helped it gain legitimacy.
Dogecoin’s big moment came in late April when NBC announced Musk would appear on Saturday Night Live in May.
In the weeks leading up to the event, cryptocurrency traders and observers openly wondered if Musk would mention Dogecoin on the show. The discussion gave the coin more exposure, and sparked interest from prominent figures like billionaire Mark Cuban.
Musk’s SNL appearance disappointed some crypto traders, as he jokingly called the Dogecoin a “hustle,” a comment that sunk its value 30%. SHIB seemed to capitalize on the hype surrounding SNL. Two days after Musk’s appearance, Binance listed SHIB on its platform, and the price for SHIB doubled.
Hsiao says that even if Dogecoin didn’t directly benefit from Musk’s hosting duties, his appearance and the weeks leading up to it drew the attention of millions to meme coins.
What happens now?
SHIB’s future is uncertain, and experts caution that it may already be too late to get in on the action.
SHIB’s price dropped 14% to $0.000029 on Wednesday, down from a high of $0.000034 on Tuesday.
“If you’re buying today, I don’t know where the future lies for you,” says Hsiao. “But if you were in a few days ago, yes, you’re definitely making money.”
Ultimately, Hsiao says, SHIB should be considered as one of thousands of meme coins that have popped up in recent weeks and months as traders have gravitated toward coins based on memes rather than coins that promote a superior technology or underlying use cases like Ethereum.
“The hype around meme coins such as Shiba…is not a financial, but a social phenomenon,” says Caselin.
Hsiao notes that a coin named the Australian Shepherd Token, which trades under the name ASS, and others called Astro Doge and Doge Elon have gotten bumps in recent days.
“Obviously, this is not sustainable. Most people will lose money,” he says.
Still, Hsiao says his inbox is inundated with questions about SHIB coin. Contacts in China and around the world are curious to learn more about the buzz.
“All they’re talking about is—and pardon my language—‘We might as well buy this shitcoin,’” he says.
But even with all the attention, SHIB is a long way from dethroning Dogecoin, which now has a market cap of $64 billion.
“I’d be surprised if SHIB overtook DOGE,” says Sam Bankman-Fried, chief executive officer at cryptocurrency derivatives exchange FTX. “But anything can happen!”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com