Payments startup UTRUST is calling its first step in building a bitcoin and cryptocurrency payments platform with consumer protections a huge success, despite events working against its industry in China.
One early sign of its success was a major slowdown in the UTRUST infrastructure and support channels last week because of the popularity of the UTRUST tokens, which were available for backers to purchase in advance of its Initial Coin Offering first round on Sept. 20.
The pre-ICO sold out in 90 minutes and netted the Switzerland-based company more than $1.5 million, providing UTRUST with the money it needs for future technical development, strategic partnerships and marketing. It plans seven rounds for its ICO.
While this was happening, China enacted a blanket ban on initial coin offerings, a fundraising process described as a cross between crowdfunding and an initial public offering (and thus living in a state of regulatory uncertainty).
"The China ICO measures are a significant hindrance to fundraising via ICOs and even the acceptance of cryptocurrencies as a means of payment," said Javier Paz, senior analyst at Aite Group. "ICOs like UTRUST that stand in the middle to facilitate cryptocurrency payments will face difficulties guaranteeing payment to resellers if the firm can't easily convert cryptocurrency from end users in light of tightening regulations."
UTRUST's pre-sale indicated a continuing interest among supporters in getting cryptocurrency and its accompanying blockchain technology more mainstream and in a place where it can make a difference in the payments market.
Nuno Correia, CEO and co-founder of UTRUST, expressed confidence that his company is on the right track, regardless of what happens in China.
"China banned ICOs, so I guess more Chinese will use virtual private network, and this is great for VPN providers," Correia said. VPNs establish an indirect network connection that could help guard users' privacy or improve security; the same process could enable the transferring of digital or cryptocurrencies.
"I think that a ban is worse than a solid, well-structured regulation because it creates an unwanted parallel market," Correia added. "I believe this is a temporary issue and China will eventually lift the ban and regulate the ICOs."
UTRUST has to feel good about its position, considering what happened at the pre-sale.
"Our private investors' round and pre-ICO sold out really fast with little to no marketing," Correia said. "That was not a surprise to us, if we compare our project with 99% of the ICOs. We believe that our ICO will sell fast and continue as the awareness regarding our project grows exponentially day to day."
The Ethereum standards-compatible tokens through UTRUST are created over the Ethereum protocol, and can be used as a means of exchange on UTRUST’s payment gateway along with other cryptocurrencies.
UTRUST says it will allocate a certain portion of its revenue to buy back and reduce the number of tokens in circulation. Being a deflationary currency by design, UTRUST feels the demand for tokens will increase, which should lead to appreciation in its market value.
Despite bitcoin and ether tokens enduring wild swings in value, the concept of the ICO continues to draw much attention, particularly among those who could be served well by the marketing that comes from supporting cryptocurrency.
One recent case is Hollywood diva Paris Hilton backing an upcoming ICO for LydianCoin, professing her support of bitcoin, blockchain and similar technologies.
She's not alone. Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather is supporting Stox tokens and Hubiits, while rapper "The Game" has put some money behind Paragon Coin, a cryptocurrency designed for the cannabis industry. Tech billionaire Mark Cuban has recently joined the fray, investing in the cryptocurrency fund 1confirmation.
Celebrity endorsements aren't always a good sign; the prepaid card industry sometimes suffered a backlash when it attached celebs like the Kardashians and finance guru Suze Orman to prepaid accounts. Paris Hilton might attract the same kind of attention.
"The use of Paris Hilton for fundraising purposes is a telltale sign of how sketchy the marketing gimmicks are for some ICOs," Aite's Paz said.
For Correria, the existence of celebrity-backed digital currencies could make his own company look stronger by comparison.
"We are actually solving a problem and creating something necessary," he said. "We do not have a celebrity in our team, but we do have 15 software engineers building the platform."